VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Investigators are probing to determine whether the explosion of a letter bomb addressed to televangelist Pat Robertson is linked to a January bombing that injured the daughter of a Houston reverend, a postal inspector said Saturday.
A task force of postal officials, FBI agents and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, state and local police, and firefighters were probing the Friday bombing that injured a security guard at Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network complex. Robertson was uninjured.
'The ... parcel appears to have been mailed from North Carolina, and the possibility that this bomb is related to a similar incident in the Houston area is being investigated,' postal inspector C.W. Lawrence said.
A mail bomb arrived Jan. 30 at the non-denominational Lakewood Church in Houston addressed to the Rev. John Osteen. His daughter, Lisa, who worked at the church, opened the package while it was on her lap. She suffered minor injuries to the abdomen in the ensuing blast but has since recovered.
Osteen's church has 13,000 members and delivers an 'Oasis of Love' sermon regularly broadcast worldwide. No suspect has been arrested in the bombing. Osteen is black. His church has a mixed, white-black congregation. Officials do not think it was a racial bombing. The bomb was traced to South Carolina.
Lawrence pointed out both bombs were sent from the Carolinas and both were sent to religious figures, but he did not further elaborate on why investigators think the bombings might possibly be related.
Robertson, whose radio and television network often is used as a platform against abortion, said Friday that the CBN mail bomb may be part of a wider pattern of violence against Christian evangelists.
He referred to the Osteen bombing and the arsonist torching last week of the Indiana recording studio of Christian singer Sandi Patti.
Robertson, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, was in a meeting at the time of Friday's explosion and escaped injury. He described the bomb as 'crudely fashioned' and said it was addressed to him. The CBN founder said the package, which did not include a note, was sent to kill him.
William Scheepers, 33, of Poquoson, the injured security guard, was listed Saturday in good condition at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and was expected to be released within two or three days.
Five shrapnel fragments were embedded in his left leg after the 12:34 p.m. blast. A piece of metal about the size of a dime was removed, and the guard suffered superficial damage to his abdomen, according to Dr. L.D. Britt, director of the hospital's shock trauma unit.
Postal inspectors are offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons reponsible for the letter bomb, Lawrence said. Officials also set up a toll-free telephone line to take calls from those who have information about the incident.
Lawrence said all evidence from the crime scene has been collected and is being analyzed at a Postal Service crime laboratory in Washington, D.C.
'This is evidence of extreme hatred by some deranged individuals who want to silence the Christian voice in this country,' Robertson said Friday. 'They should realize that devices sent through the mail will never reach those for whom they are intended.'
Scheepers, a full-time guard at CBN, told reporters from his hospital bed earlier that the package was about 6 inches long and 2 inches high, wrapped in brown paper. It was addressed to Robertson and had a North Carolina return address.
It was unclear why a return address would be placed on such a package.
After another worker indicated the package was suspicious, Scheepers ran it through an X-ray machine two times and shook it, then placed it on a desk and proceeded to unwrap it.
'I never saw what was inside the box,' Scheepers said, noting he opened the box about an inch before the explosion occurred. 'The next thing I knew I was laying on the floor.'
'It smelled like a shotgun blast or something,' he added. 'You could smell the powder in the air.'
No extensive damage was reported to the building, which is part of a support center for the religious network and its affiliated Regent University, formerly CBN University. About 600 people work in the building, said CBN spokeswoman Frankie Abourjilie.
The ministry and its operations in Virginia Beach receive upwards of 10,000 pieces of mail each day.
Robertson has turned more toward mainstream broadcasting with his cable network, The Family Channel, since his failed 1988 GOP presidential bid.