Man Captured in Mailbox Bomb Cases
Luke John Helder was taken into custody at 7:55 p.m. EDT after his car was stopped by the Nevada Highway Patrol in Lovelock, about 90 miles northeast of Reno, authorities said. They said he was apprehended following discussions with police and is now in federal custody.
Helder, 21, still has not been charged with a crime, authorities said.
The FBI had earlier in the day issued an all-points bulletin for a 22-year-old college student wanted for questioning in a rash of incidents in which pipe bombs were planted in mailboxes in five states in the past five days, in some cases exploding.
The FBI had warned Helder should be considered "armed and dangerous" and said he was driving a 4-door gray or black 1992-model Honda Accord bearing Minnesota license plate EZL 873. He was last seen in Texas.
Helder was described as white, 5-foot-9 and, weighing 150 pounds with brown hair and green eyes. He is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and a member of a three-person rock band called "Apathy," investigators said.
At an afternoon news conference in Omaha, Nebraska, the FBI distributed a photograph of Helder and asked him to turn himself in so that nobody else will be harmed.
Authorities described Helder as "an intelligent young man with strong family ties," said he has not been charged with any crime at this point and stopped short of identifying him as a suspect.
The young man's father, Cameron Helder, issued an emotional appeal Tuesday to his son to turn himself in.
"Luke is not a dangerous person. He is just trying to make a statement," the elder Helder told reporters.
The father added, choking back tears at times, "Luke, you need to talk to someone. Please don't hurt anyone else. It's time to talk. You have the attention you wanted. We love you very much. We want you home safe. Please call."
Authorities had earlier released one of the typewritten notes left with the bombs which said, "If the government controls what you want to do, they control what you can do." It adds, "There is no such thing as death" and "I'm obtaining your attention the only way I can."
Student had no disciplinary problems
FBI Special Agent James Bogner said that investigators want to talk to Helder about the series of bombs in the Midwest and urged him to come forward.
"We do not want to see him harmed or any public harmed," Bogner said.
The agent said investigators believe the suspect moved from Illinois to Iowa and Nebraska and then Colorado and Texas. "We think he may be located in that part of the country," he said.
Bogner said that he did not have any indications that Helder had a gun, but in the all-points bulletin, the FBI said he should be considered "armed and dangerous."
He has not been charged with any crime, authorities emphasized.
The FBI urged anybody with information to call a toll-free number, 866-847-2324.
Jennifer Klement, a spokeswoman for the University of Wisconsin-Stout at Menomonie, said Helder is registered there as a junior. She said Helder, whose home is in Pine Island, Minnesota, is majoring in art with a concentration in industrial design. The university, which is just west of Eau Claire, has no record of disciplinary problems involving Helder.
This is the last week of classes at the state institution, which has about 8,000 students. Final exams are scheduled next week.
Different detonation devices
Monday's incident in Texas raised to 18 the number of pipe bombs found since last Friday. Six people were injured in explosions from the first bombs in Illinois and Iowa. The devices are cylindrical, about 6 inches long, three-quarters of an inch in diameter with wires attached to a 9-volt battery.
According to federal investigators, three mailbox bombs were found in Illinois, five in Iowa, eight in Nebraska, one in Colorado and one in Texas.
Though nearly identical, the bombs differed in their detonation mechanisms.
"The detonation devices were apparently different in Iowa and Illinois from what they were in Nebraska," said Larry Holmquist, a spokesman for the FBI's field division in Omaha. "The difference [in the detonators] caused the explosives in Nebraska to be somewhat more stable and less likely to explode if someone were to handle it. However, they still were active explosives."
In Washington, Postmaster General John Potter said Tuesday 150 postal inspectors were involved in the investigation. He said his agency's top priority "has been to alert our employees and the public about the precautionary measures that should be taken to minimize possible risks.
Federal officials emphasized that, though the devices have been found in mailboxes, none of them was sent through the mail.
Though the FBI has classified the incidents as domestic terrorism, federal officials Tuesday noted that between 1993 and 1997 an average of between 4,700 and 5,300 "explosive incidents" were reported around the country each year -- with mailbox bombings acccounting for 26 percent, the most predominant kind.
Helder, shown in this 2001 photo, was taken into custody in Lovelock, Nevada late Tuesday.