- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

RENO, Nev. (AP) The FBI zeroed in on Luke J. Helder, 21, as the suspect in the mailbox bombings after his father called police late at night about a disturbing letter he had received from his son, authorities said yesterday.
Mr. Helder was captured Tuesday in Nevada after holding a shotgun to his head during a car chase and telling a friend by telephone "I might have to blow myself away" if his plan didn't work out, authorities said.
The FBI had used the signal from his new cell phone to pinpoint his location, some 1,400 miles from his home in Pine Island, Minn.
During his weekend odyssey halfway across the country, Mr. Helder was stopped by police and released three times for traffic violations. But that was before his father called police and an all-points-bulletin for Mr. Helder was issued on Tuesday.
Yesterday, the FBI said Mr. Helder confessed to making a total of 24 pipe bombs out of tape, paper clips and Christmas tree bulbs and placing 18 of them in mailboxes in five states, along with anti-government notes. Mr. Helder had the six other bombs with him when he was arrested.
Six of the bombs exploded, injuring six persons in Iowa and Illinois. The FBI said the final 10 bombs found in Nebraska, Colorado and Texas were not rigged to detonate.
Mr. Helder faces federal charges in at least three Midwestern states. He is expected to be returned to Iowa first and could be sent to prison for life if convicted.
His public defender, Vito de la Cruz, did not immediately return calls.
The bombs rattled the Midwest and recalled the Unabomber case as well as last fall's unsolved anthrax scare. The U.S. Postal Service suspended service in some areas and urged people to leave their mailboxes open so letter carriers could peer inside.
The FBI issued an alert for Mr. Helder after his father, Cameron, called police late 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.
Mr. Helder also wrote his father: "If I don't make it through this ordeal (if the gov't doesn't realize I can help) then I'll have to get out of here for awhile."
Before Mr. Helder's arrest, criminal profiling experts had speculated that an older man was responsible. But the improbable suspect who emerged proved to be a guitar player in a punk rock band called Apathy and a junior studying art and industrial design at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wis.
Mr. Helder remained something of an enigma yesterday. He was described as bright, polite and not given to ranting about politics. In high school, he played football and golf and was in the choir. Until this week, his criminal record showed only a marijuana possession charge last October.
That he could be involved in the case stunned people in his hometown and his college town.
"For heaven's sake, he's not a terrorist," said Rachel Stanton, whose son played in Mr. Helder's band. "Nobody saw this coming."
Citing his writings and statements from friends, however, the FBI said Mr. Helder had become obsessed recently with death and the afterlife.


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