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Feds: Suspect admitted pipe bomb spree

Helder appears in court Wednesday.  

RENO, Nevada (CNN) -- Accused mailbox bomber Lucas Helder admitted he planted 18 pipe bombs in five states during a weekend cross-country spree, knowing that people would be injured when they exploded, a federal prosecutor said Wednesday.

During the first court appearance for the clean-cut, 21-year-old college student and one-time rock band member, assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Denney said police seized a shotgun loaded with a single round from Helder's car following a high-speed chase on a Nevada highway.

Denney said the suspect told authorities he purchased the gun intending to take his own life.

Police also found six pipe bombs found in the trunk of Helder's car, Denney said.

Meanwhile, several pipe bomb-like devices found in mailboxes in eastern Indiana do not appear to be connected to pipe bombs planted in five other states over the weekend, federal authorities said Wednesday. (Full story)

In the Reno hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert McQuaid agreed with the prosecutor that Helder should be detained without bond, saying he posed a danger to the community and an escape risk, despite defense pleas that he be released to the custody of his family.

The judge said he believes Helder "suffers from some apparent mental health problems" -- a reference to his suspected suicidal intentions.

Federal charges
against Helder

  • Use of an explosive to maliciously destroy property
  • Use of a destructive device to commit a crime of violence

  • Use of an explosive to maliciously destroy property affecting interstate commerce
  • Use of a destructive device to commit a crime of violence

  • Interstate transportation of explosives

  • Possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime

  •  Helder background
  • Name: Lucas John Helder
  • Age: 21
  • School: University of Wisconsin-Stout
  • Class: Junior
  • Major: Art/industrial design
  • Hobbies: Guitar, Internet
  • Favorite band: Nirvana

  •  CNN NewsPass Video 
      •  Pipe bomb suspect's father speaks out
      •  Helder admits to pipe bomb spree
      •  Suspected mailbox bomber in custody
      •  Father tipped cops to Helder's identity
      •  Access: Officer: Bomb suspect seemed 'carefree'
      •  Pipe bomb charges baffle suspect's friends
      •  Pipe bomb suspect known as 'really nice kid'
      •  Criminal complaints: Illinois | Iowa (FindLaw PDF)
      •  Factfile: Mailbox bomb letter text
      •  Map: Bombing sites
      •  Profile: Lucas Helder

    Denney said Helder waived his Miranda rights before admitting he planted the bombs in five states -- pointing out the towns on a map. Six people were injured by explosions in Iowa and Illinois.

    Notes with anti-government messages were found in the rural roadside mailboxes where the pipe bombs were placed.

    McQuaid ordered Helder moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he faces two federal charges, the first of several filed since Tuesday night.

    One count accuses Helder of using an explosive "to maliciously destroy property affecting interstate commerce." The other charges him with "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 on the latter charge, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

    Similar charges were filed against him by a U.S. attorney in Illinois. In Nebraska, he faces another federal charge of interstate transportation of explosives. In Nevada, he faces a charge of possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime.

    No timetable was mentioned for his transfer to Iowa.

    Helder, dressed in orange pants, T-shirt and jacket stenciled with a black jail insignia, stood by a podium next to court-appointed public defender Vito Dela Cruz for the duration of the 25-minute hearing. He appeared relaxed and at ease, though tired.

    Before the hearing, he occasionally smiled while talking with his lawyer. During the hearing, he was casual and matter of fact.

    As the session began, the judge asked if Lucas John Helder was his true name. "Yeah, that's correct," Helder answered.

    "Do you understand that you don't have to make any statements," McQuaid asked.

    "Most definitely," the suspect responded.

    "If you do make a statement, it could be used against you," the judge said.

    "For sure," Helder replied.

    Cell phone leads to suspect

    Helder's admissions to the FBI were made public earlier in the day in an FBI affidavit filed in Omaha, Nebraska, where the suspect allegedly assembled some of his pipe bombs.

    The affidavit said Helder admitted "manufacturing eight pipe bombs in his apartment in Wisconsin" and 16 more at a hotel near Omaha.

    The affidavit said eight pipe bombs were left at locations in Illinois and Iowa, where six people were injured in explosions. Another eight bombs were placed in Nebraska and one each in Colorado and Texas, the affidavit said.

    Authorities were tipped to Helder's identity Monday night when the art student's adoptive father telephoned the police chief in Menomonie, Wisconsin, the college town where Helder lived and attended the University of Wisonsin-Stout.

    Judge Robert McQuaid said he believes Helder "suffers from some apparent mental health problems."  

    Cameron Helder "called us and said he had received a letter from his son and the contents led him to believe his son may be involved," Menomonie Police Chief Dennis Beety said.

    Helder's arrest near Reno Tuesday afternoon marked the end of an intensive manhunt that included a high-speed chase through a stark Nevada landscape. He spent the night under suicide watch in the Washoe County Jail.

    Authorities located Helder by tracking a pair of cellular phone calls he made to friends in Minnesota, said Sheriff Dennis Balaam of Washoe County, Nevada.

    In another criminal complaint filed in Iowa, FBI Special Agent Scott B. French said the two friends said Helder admitted he was responsible for the mailbox bombings.

    After pinpointing Helder, agents negotiated for his surrender as he drove through Nevada. Balaam said the chase reached speeds of between 85 mph and 100 mph before Helder pulled over on Interstate 80.

    Stopped three times before arrest

    The complaint filed against Helder in Iowa said police had stopped him three times since Saturday. All three stops were made before authorities got the tip from his adoptive father.

    Two were speeding stops near St. Edward, Nebraska, just after midnight Saturday, and in Fowler, Colorado, before 3 p.m. Sunday.

    The third was a stop for failure to wear a seat belt about 2 p.m. Saturday near Watonga, Oklahoma. The Oklahoma trooper also cited Helder for an expired driver's license.

    The first Nebraska trooper to stop Helder reported he told him he "didn't mean to hurt anybody" as he approached. The Colorado trooper said Helder "appeared to be very nervous and had very watery eyes like he was going to cry."

    Helder had a 10-minute conversation with his parents Wednesday morning and they assured him they still supported him, Balaam said.

    His parents also allowed agents from the FBI and the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to search their home "for public safety reasons."

    The parents told authorities that financial considerations meant they probably would wait until their son is transferred from Reno before they visit him.

    -- CNN correspondents Charles Feldman and Martin Savidge and Producer Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.


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