College student arrested in pipe bomb case

May 7, 2002 at 11:44 PM
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LOVELOCK, Nev., May 7 (UPI) -- A Minnesota college student wanted for questioning in a recent series of anti-government mailbox bombings that injured six people in the American heartland was arrested in rural northern Nevada late Tuesday.

Luke John Helder, 21, was arrested following a brief standoff with law enforcement officers who had surrounded his car in the small city of Lovelock, located along Interstate 80 in the remote Humboldt Mountains about 40 miles east of Reno.

"There was no resistance to the arrest, and he will be taken to the Washoe County jail in Reno, but we don't know when," an FBI spokeswoman in Las Vegas told United Press International.

Further details of the capture were not immediately released, but ABC News reported that a motorist spotted Helder driving his 1992 Honda on the highway east of Lovelock and contacted the sheriff's department, which passed the information on to the Nevada Highway Patrol.

Helder was pulled over and reportedly held a gun to his head before being coaxed into surrendering without further incident; bomb squad experts were dispatched to the scene to check the car for explosives.

The FBI said its agents were involved in the arrest along with the highway patrol, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and sheriff's deputies from Pershing and Churchill counties.

The FBI had issued an all-points bulletin for Helder earlier Tuesday. Agents said they wanted to question Helder about 18 pipe bombs found in mailboxes in five states stretching from Illinois to Texas.

The bombs were accompanied by letters critical of the federal government and were considered to be acts of domestic terrorism by investigators.

The FBI released a description of Helder after the latest pipe bomb was found in a stand-alone mailbox in a residential area of Amarillo, a city of nearly 158,000 in the Texas Panhandle. The device was similar to the others, the FBI said.

"He has been described as an intelligent young man with strong family ties," said James Bogner, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Omaha, Neb., where the pipe bomb investigation is based.

"At this stage we need to talk to Luke Helder and we need to try to resolve this aspect of the investigation," the FBI agent said.

Helder has not been charged with any crime, and the FBI did not disclose how they connected him to the pipe bombs.

Asked earlier where Helder might be, Bogner had said the path of the bomb drops through northwest Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado and Texas indicated that he might still be in Texas, although he was arrested more than 1,000 miles from the Lone Star State.

Postal workers and customers in the West Texas area were warned Tuesday to be careful in checking mailboxes. Most of the bombs have been discovered in rural areas, but the Amarillo bomb was found Monday in a residential neighborhood.

Robert Martinez discovered the device inside a plastic bag when he checked his mailbox and he called authorities. The device was disarmed and no one was injured. The FBI said it was similar to the bombs found in the four other states.

Kenny Smith, a Postal Service spokesman, warned West Texas residents and postal workers to be careful about opening mail boxes.

"If you find something in your mail box leave the door open and get away from it as quickly as possible," he said. "Don't handle it and contact the law enforcement."

Another pipe bomb was discovered Monday in a plastic Ziploc sandwich bag in a rural mailbox at Salida, Colo., 140 miles southwest of Denver. The small south-central Colorado town of 4,700 is about 325 miles north of Amarillo.

The device was consistent with other ones found, the FBI said. The bombs were described as 6-inch long, 3/4-inch galvanized steel pipes filled with black powder and attached to a 9-volt battery.

Bombs injured six people in Iowa and Illinois on Friday.

Rural postal deliveries resumed Monday and residents were instructed to leave the doors open on roadside mailboxes. Colorado residents with curbside delivery were told to leave the mailbox doors open under further notices.

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles and Phil Magers in Dallas.)

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