College student charged in pipe bomb cases
OMAHA, Nebraska (CNN) -- Federal authorities charged a 21-year-old college student Tuesday in connection with a five-day spree of pipe bomb incidents from Illinois to Texas that injured six people and prompted a manhunt across the heartland of the country.
Luke John Helder, who just turned 21 on Sunday, was arrested at 4:54 Tuesday afternoon (7:54 p.m. ET) near Reno, Nevada, after state highway patrol officers stopped his car and persuaded him to surrender without incident. He was then turned over to federal authorities. He is being held at the Washoe County Jail in Reno.
The U.S. attorney in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, charged Helder with two criminal counts.
One count charges him with using an explosive to maliciously destroy property affecting interstate commerce. The other accuses him of using a destructive device to commit a crime of violence that wounded a woman when she opened her roadside mailbox in rural Tipton, Iowa.
If convicted, Helder would face up to 40 years in prison on count one and up to a life sentence on count two, said James Bogner, FBI special agent in charge for Iowa and Nebraska.
Bogner said a federal complaint also was being sought in the northern district of Illinois.
The FBI identified the suspect on the basis of a letter he sent from Omaha, Nebraska, to the Badger Herald -- a student publication of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
The letter was sent Friday, the day the first of the 18 pipe bombs in Illinois and Iowa was discovered. Other bombs were found in Nebraska in subsequent days.
Helder was a student at the University of Wisconsin at Stout and a member of a three-person rock band called "Apathy," investigators said.
The Herald said it turned the letter over to the FBI Tuesday afternoon.
This prompted an all-points bulletin from the FBI seeking Helder for questioning. The FBI alert described Helder as "armed and dangerous" and said he was driving a car with Minnesota plates.
The bulletin was issued the day after the most recent bomb was found Monday afternoon in a curbside mailbox in a residential area of Amarillo, Texas, with a note containing "anti-government propaganda" attached.
In his letter to the school paper, Helder said, "I will die/change in the end for this, but that's ok, hahaha paradise awaits! I'm dismissing a few individuals from reality, to change all of you for the better, surely you can understand my logic."
The letter was titled, "Explosions! A Bit of Evidence for You!"
Monday's incident in Texas raised to 18 the number of pipe bombs found since last Friday. Six people were injured in explosions from the first bombs in Illinois and Iowa.
The devices were cylindrical, about 6 inches long, three-quarters of an inch in diameter with wires attached to a 9-volt battery.
According to federal investigators, three mailbox bombs were found in Illinois, five in Iowa, eight in Nebraska, one in Colorado and one in Texas.
All the bombs were accompanied by letters full of anti-government rhetoric.
At an afternoon news conference in Omaha, the FBI showed a picture of Helder -- clean-shaven and smiling with short-cropped hair and wearing a white shirt and tie -- and asked that he turn himself in.
Authorities described Helder as "an intelligent young man with strong family ties."
Earlier Tuesday, Helder's father, Cameron Helder, issued an emotional appeal to his son to turn himself in.
"Luke is not a dangerous person. He is just trying to make a statement," the elder Helder told reporters. The father added, choking back tears at times:
"Luke, you need to talk to someone. Please don't hurt anyone else. It's time to talk. You have the attention you wanted. We love you very much. We want you home safe. Please call."
Jennifer Klement, a spokeswoman for the University of Wisconsin-Stout at Menomonie, said Helder is registered there as a junior.
She said Helder, whose home is in Pine Island, Minnesota, was majoring in art with a concentration in industrial design. The university, which is just west of Eau Claire, had no record of disciplinary problems involving Helder.
This is the last week of classes at the state institution, which has about 8,000 students. Final exams are scheduled next week.
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