Flint, MI– For two years, Annette Reynolds has heard and felt sporadic, unexplained “booms” in the Rollingwood neighborhood in Flint’s Third Ward.
It’s not like thunder or a gunshot, she said. To her, it almost sounds like it’s coming from underground.
Like small earthquakes, the unexpected booms have shaken her house and even knocked a teddy bear off one of her shelves. But after calling 911 for months and reporting the booms to the police, Reynolds and other residents in the area have yet to get answers.
“It’s crazy. It’s scary. It’s the fear of the unknown. Lord forbid, but everybody is just like, ‘One of these booms is going to be the boom that takes us out,’” Reynolds said. “And we do feel that way.”
The first post in the Rollingwood neighborhood’s Facebook group about one of the booms is from November 4, 2020.
“Anyone else hear that loud ass boom couple mins ago??,” the post reads. It received more than 20 comments.
“Yes, sounded like someone hit my house.”
“Sonic boom, happens all the time. Not sure exactly.”
“Scared the crap out of me and my cats.”
Reynolds, the president of the Rollingwood Neighborhood Association, commented that she “about jumped out her britches,” and that it rattled her home.
Since that post, there have been at least 28 more on that Facebook page from Rollingwood residents checking to see if anyone else heard “the big boom,” or “the loud bang like an explosion,” or felt “their house shake again.”
In addition to the record of posts on Facebook, Reynolds began to keep track of the times she heard the mysterious sounds and shakes this year in a notebook with a specific page entitled “Booms Notes.”
On January 25, 2022, she made a note that she’d been advised to call 911 each time she heard the boom to report it. On the group’s Facebook page, she encouraged other members to call and report the booms too.
“They are getting louder, more of a shake to the homes and lingering roll of vibration. I’m sick of these sounds,” she posted. “Someone has got to know where this is coming from. Are we gonna be the next neighborhood to go thru what Hogarth did?”
On Nov. 22, 2021, there was an explosion in a house on the 3900 block of Hogarth Avenue. The house became engulfed in flames, burning down along with the two houses on either side of it. Officials confirmed that a 55-year-old woman and a 4-year-old girl died in the explosion.
Dozens of people living in the area were displaced after the explosion shattered their windows and shook the walls of their homes out of place. More than six months later, investigators have still not found a cause of the explosion.
Reynolds said that the booms she and her neighbors hear are especially worrying in light of the Hogarth Avenue explosion.
“People now are saying, ‘Our houses are all going to blow up,’ and ‘Should we all just move?,’ and ‘Maybe I need to get better insurance, I want my kids to be taken care of if I died,’” Reynolds said. “These are thoughts people shouldn’t have on an everyday basis.”
Third Ward Flint City Councilman Quincy Murphy said that getting to the bottom of this mystery has been a top priority for him. Since taking office, he said he’s gotten many calls from Rollingwood residents about the issue.
“I kept hearing that they would say it would make their house shake, stuff would fall off the wall,” Murphy said.
He said he put in a referral to the city to get information about what’s happening in the Rollingwood neighborhood as soon as he took office in November of last year, but still has no definitive answer about where the disturbance is coming from.
“I think it needs to be resolved. I really do. The residents need to know what is going on,” Murphy said. “Some people think it’s in the ground. I would hate to live in a neighborhood where you have a lot of booms.”
He said he would like to get a ShotSpotter camera, which can detect the location of gunshots, installed in the neighborhood to try to pinpoint where the booms are coming from because he’s not satisfied with current theories.
Murphy said Police Chief Terence Green theorized that the booms may be coming from Parker’s Propane Gas Company near the Rollingwood neighborhood. Flint PD and other city officials did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
In search of confirmation of Green’s theory, Murphy went to ask workers at the propane company about the issue. He said he was told that they don’t crush propane tanks, and that they drill holes in the tanks first to drain them before they’re taken to be recycled.
Michaela Smith, the office manager for the company, also said that they do not conduct any activity that would make such a noise.
“Definitely not. We don’t hear anything here, or around here,” she said. “They may be hearing the junkyard which is right behind us, or the switch station at the railroad tracks. Sometimes you can hear the cars banging when they stop, but no it’s not us.”
Reynolds used to live next to train tracks though and said the sounds are not the same. As for the junkyard theory, one business nearby denies that the sound could be coming from them either.
“No, nothing that loud. You’d just hear crushing metal but that’s about it,” said Randy Clayton, a parts salesperson for J & S Auto Salvage Inc.
Clayton said they never crush anything with propane.
“That’d tear your equipment up,” he said. “That’d be a ‘bad news’ sound.”
Rollingwood residents have their own theories.
Some posters on the Facebook page say they believe that these are sonic booms, meaning loud, explosive noises caused by airplanes flying faster than the speed of sound. Others have suggested it could be Tannerite exploding rifle targets. Some worry the booms could be related to a gas line.
Residents who remember a similar issue from about a decade ago, point to the police for the source of the booms.
Nearly ten years ago, Flint’s east side residents were plagued by the same mysterious booms until they learned that the Flint Police Department had a bomb range at an undisclosed location. The department’s bomb squad trained and detonated devices here, according to news reports.
But Reynolds said Flint PD has denied recent use of the range when she asked about it. She said that a sergeant told her the bomb range had been led by Capt. Collin Birnie who passed away in a car accident earlier this year.
“He said, even if it would have been that they would notify the dispatch center so when they’re getting calls about it, they could tell us what it is so people aren’t so worried,” Reynolds said.
It’s frustrating for Reynolds, who said she feels like somebody must know what causes the booms. But without knowing a cause or when to expect them, it’s more than frustrating– it’s terrifying.
“Until people can be 100% confirmed that this is what it is, people aren’t going to relax. And 911 is going to continue to get flooded,” Reynolds said.
She worries about her neighbors who are elderly, or suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and may experience intensified fear and distress from the booms. She said she feels that if the residents had an answer, and a schedule of when to expect to hear the booms, they could all be put at ease.
Murphy said once they do find a cause, he’d want to look into seeing if it could be a public nuisance of some kind.
“We need to look at the ordinance and the regulations, but if it’s not inside the city of Flint, we need to see what the regulations are wherever it’s coming from,” he said.
Murphy said he will continue to press city officials for answers, and Reynolds plans to keep calling 911 when she hears the booms.
She’s not convinced calling will get her any answers, but at this point, she wants a paper trail.
“If 12 months down the road, some area, Lord forbid, anywhere near any homes exploded … people could be like, ‘Well, wait a minute, I called for the last year and a half,’” Reynolds said. “‘Why wasn’t something done?’”