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Mailbox bombs hit Nebraska

No one was injured by the pipe bombs, which were similar to those that hurt six in Iowa and Illinois on Friday.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 5, 2002


TIPTON, Iowa -- Rural residents discovered unexploded bombs in mailboxes in several Nebraska counties Saturday, a day after six pipe bombs in rural mailboxes exploded and injured six people in eastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois.

The pipe bombs in Illinois and Iowa had been accompanied by a typewritten antigovernment note in a plastic bag that said, "I'm obtaining your attention in the only way I can," adding that "more attention-getters are on the way."

It appeared that the five devices discovered Saturday also were accompanied by letters, at least one of them identical to those found in Iowa and Illinois, said Jim Bogner, the FBI special agent leading the investigation from a command center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Unlike the bombs found Friday, authorities said, none of the bombs in Nebraska exploded.

The devices found Saturday, near the central Nebraska towns of Ohiowa, Columbus, Dannebrog, Davenport and Scotia, had been placed in the mailboxes, not sent through the mail, said Weysan Dunn, assistant special agent-in-charge of the FBI's Omaha office. He said four were found by mail carriers and one was discovered by a resident.

"For the individual or individuals who may have been responsible for this and who may be listening: You have gotten our attention," Dunn said at a news conference Saturday. "We are not certain we understand your message. We would like to hear from you. You do not need to send any more of these devices."

At a news conference, Bogner said the bomber's letter "suggests that the author has a grievance against some level of government" which he tried to communicate in the past, without being heard.

Although he used the term "individual," and called the bomber "he" during the news conference, Bogner said the possibility that the bombings were the work of a group or a woman had not been ruled out.

Earlier Saturday, Bogner said authorities had some leads on who may have planted pipe bombs in at least eight rural mailboxes Friday.

After Saturday's discoveries, postal inspectors in Iowa and Illinois curtailed inspections planned for thousands of mailboxes. Mail was suspended in the area and officials did not say how soon if would resume.

"We're using all of our resources for investigation and apprehension of whoever is responsible," said Rick Bowdren, inspector-in-charge of the Midwest division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

He urged people across the Midwest to use caution in opening their mailboxes and said anyone who sees tape, wire or anything unusual around a mailbox should report it the local post office.

"We are asking postal patrons to keep their mailboxes open. We would recommend they tape it open," Bowdren said. "That way the carrier making a delivery can look in and patrons can look in and that anxiety factor will be alleviated."

Gorlyn Nun, a 59-year-old carpenter, found one of the first unexploded bombs Saturday morning when he opened his mailbox near Ohiowa, a farm village of 100 people about 65 miles southwest of Lincoln, Neb.

He said he saw a clear plastic bag containing a 6-inch-long metal pipe with screw-on caps on both ends, along with a 9-volt battery, some wires and some papers, he said. At first Nun thought that someone had left something for his wife, and he picked the package up, but put it back down.

"This doesn't quite look right," he said he told himself, calling the county sheriff. FBI agents and explosives experts arrived an hour or so later, confirmed that the device was a pipe bomb, and detonated it, Nun said.

The bombs that exploded Friday, in mailboxes along farm roads, detonated not by timing devices but by the opening of the mailboxes, said Jon C. Peterson, the agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms directing the investigation in Iowa.

They injured four rural mail carriers and two women, cutting faces, hands and arms and breaking eardrums. The bombs exploded in mail boxes in front of rural residences set far back from especially remote roads.

All of the bombs placed in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska over two days were within about 50 miles of Interstate 80, which runs west from Chicago through Des Moines and Omaha.

"These are not places just off I-80, these are really back roads," said Ron Jensen, a supervisory United States postal inspector. On a map, the bomb sites form a rough circle passing through western Illinois and eastern Iowa, with a circumference of about 230 miles, centered on the town of Makoqueta, Iowa. The distance suggests that a single individual, by driving fast and working methodically, might have been able to plant all of the bombs under cover of darkness between dusk Thursday and dawn Friday.

Hundreds of law enforcement agents from the FBI, ATF, Postal Service and local police and sheriff's departments had cordoned off all of the explosives sites to gather evidence.

One of those injured Friday was Delores Werling, a 70-year-old, part-time teacher of the disabled who lives on a 200-acre farmstead northeast of Tipton, Iowa, about 37 miles southeast of Cedar Rapids. Her husband, Bryce Werling, who is a retired farmer, said Saturday that he and his wife drove up to their mailbox about 11:20 a.m. Friday. His wife, sitting on the passenger side, opened the mail box, took out some mail and, noticing an object, asked her husband if he had left something in the mailbox.

"Just at that moment it blowed up," Werling said. "I thought I'd blowed a tire, but then I saw that Delores was all covered with blood."

"Let's get to a doctor," Mrs. Werling told her husband, he said. She was treated at a hospital in Iowa City and released, Werling said. Her eardrums were burst by the blast, and when three of her four living children gathered at their farmstead Saturday, Werling could not hear their comforting words, Werling said.

"Why pick on us?" he asked. "She hasn't got an enemy in the world. She's a wonderful person."

-- Information from the New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.

Bomb timeline

FRIDAY

6:50 A.M., NEAR ELDRIDGE, IOWA: Shelli Englebrecht sees a suspicious package when she gets her newspaper. A bomb squad disables the bomb. A newspaper carrier said she had seen something in the mailbox but thought it was a tractor part.

10:50 A.M., NEAR FARLEY, IOWA: Mail carrier Larry Hoefer finds a pipe attached to a 9-volt battery in a mailbox. The state fire marshal's office detonates it.

11:15 A.M., NEAR MOUNT CARROLL, ILL.: A mail carrier is hurt when a pipe bomb explodes in a rural mailbox.

12:30 P.M., NEAR ASBURY, IOWA: A mail carrier loses hearing and gets shrapnel in his arm after a pipe bomb explodes. The explosion drills a hole in the door of the carrier's vehicle.

12:30 P.M., NEAR MORRISON, ILL.: Mail carrier Marilyn Dolieslager's face is hurt and she looses part of her thumb after a pipe bomb explodes.

2:30 P.M., NEAR ELIZABETH, ILL.: Mail carrier Steve Ertmer's hands are cut when a pipe bomb explodes in a rural mailbox.

AFTERNOON, NEAR TIPTON, IOWA: Delores Werling's hands and face are hurt by shrapnel when the 70-year-old pulls up to her mailbox in a car and opens it to a pipe bomb explosion.

AFTERNOON, NEAR ANAMOSA, IOWA: Doris Zimmerman is hurt when a pipe bomb explodes in her mailbox. She remained hospitalized in fair condition Saturday in Cedar Rapids.

SATURDAY

In Nebraska, pipe bombs are found in rural mailboxes near the towns of Scotia, Cairo, Columbus, Davenport and Ohiowa. None explodes.

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