Pipe Bomb Suspect Wanted to Make a "Smiley Face" Pattern on Map with his Targets
RENO, Nev. -- The 21-year-old college student accused in a string of pipe bombings wanted to make a "smiley face" pattern with his targets, authorities said Thursday.
"There was a comment made to one of my officers about his hope to make a smiley face when he was all finished," Pershing County Sheriff Ron Skinner said.
Skinner said Luke Helder made the comments to an undercover county officer shortly after his arrest outside Reno on Tuesday.
"His demeanor was very jovial. He didn't seem to be taking anything seriously at the time," the sheriff said.
The smiley face symbol was designed by a Massachusetts man in 1963 as part of an in-house happiness program for an insurance company. It became one of the most recognizable symbol of the 1970s.
An FBI official would not comment on the sheriff's report.
Meanwhile, the suspect's parents, Cameron and Pamela Helder, met with their son at the county jail in Reno for about 30 minutes. They were separated by glass and spoke by telephone.
"We are here to see our son in his hour of need," Cameron Helder told reporters afterward. "We told him we love him. I feel a lot better after speaking to him."
Helder faces federal charges in Illinois, Nebraska and Iowa, where his initial court appearance is scheduled for Friday.
If convicted, he could be sent to prison for life. Cameron Helder said he expects the legal proceedings to be a long process.
It's already been very hard on us," he said. "Our heart goes out to the families of the victims."
The FBI said Helder placed 18 pipe bombs in mailboxes in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado and Texas, along with anti-government notes. Six of the bombs exploded last Friday, injuring four letter carriers and two residents.
The eight bombs in Iowa and Illinois were found in rural locations that form an uneven ring about 70 miles in diameter. The Nebraska bomb sites - about 350 miles away - form a large ring about 90 miles across.
The other bombs were found hundreds of miles to the southwest - one in Salida, Colo., and another in Amarillo, Texas.
The FBI issued an alert for Helder after his father called police Monday night about letters from his son that included references to death, anti-government comments and the phrase "Mailboxes are exploding." The same phrase was in the notes found with the bombs.
Authorities said Luke Helder has confessed to making 24 pipe bombs out of smokeless gunpowder, BBs or nails, paper clips and Christmas tree bulbs. The final 10 bombs found in mailboxes and the six found in his car were not rigged to explode, authorities said.
Helder's parents arrived at Reno-Tahoe International Airport early Thursday from their home in Pine Island, Minn.
Cameron Helder said he wanted to thank the FBI and the sheriff's department for making the visit possible "so we have a better understanding of what is going through his mind and what is happening."
Washoe County Sheriff Dennis Balaam said Helder did not seem upset that his father turned him in.
"I think he understands. I don't think there are any ill feelings there at all," the sheriff said. "It was an emotional goodbye. It's a difficult time for all.
"I think as each moment goes by the consequences are starting to set in with him."
Balaam also said Helder was headed for California when he was arrested, but he did not know why.