Pipe bomb charges baffle suspect's friends
MENOMONIE, Wisconsin (CNN) -- Lucas John Helder paged his boss at a commercial cleaning business Thursday night with a simple "I won't be in tonight."
Chuck Stoffel, owner of ServiceMaster, said Helder apparently called from a cell phone, and bad reception garbled the reason his college student employee gave for not coming in.
Today, Stoffel and everyone else who worked with the 21-year-old Helder knows why he skipped work: He was off on a cross-country drive that ended near Reno, Nevada, where he has been jailed and charged with planting pipe bombs in mailboxes along his route.
"I feel bad for his folks and the victims, too, that were hurt," Stoffel said. "Luke's probably the only one who knows why he did it."
Stoffel said Helder has worked from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday for the past year cleaning a pair of office buildings. He and Helder's fellow employees described the young man as a good worker, conscientious, reliable and even "sweet."
Politics, they said, was not a hot topic of discussion -- music was.
Helder is the guitarist for a grunge-type trio called Apathy, and friends say the suspected mailbox bomber is "obsessed" with Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide in 1994, but they found no reason in his music to suspect he might do something like what he is accused of.
Mike Decorsey, a former roommate, said he was completely surprised by the turn of events.
"This is the furthest thing I can see him doing, something like this," Decorsey said. "He was, you know, like I said, a really nice kid. And I just don't see him being violent like this."
University of Wisconsin-Stout spokesman John Enger also said Helder never did anything that foreshadowed the alleged weekend spree.
"We had no indication whatsoever that there was a potential problem here," he said. "Nothing to indicate this was in the offing."
The closest thing to trouble found so far in Helder's background is a September 1991 citation from Dunn County, Wisconsin, that says Helder paid a $151 fine in $30 installments for possessing a marijuana pipe "with residue."
Back at his home in Pine Island, Minnesota, Helder's father Cameron said his son is "not a dangerous person."
Menomonie Police Chief Dennis Beety said that Cameron Helder had "called us and said he had received a letter from his son and the contents led him to believe his son may be involved" with the mailbox bombings.
"I think he's just trying to make a statement about the way our government is run," the elder Helder said of his son. "I think Luke wants people to listen to his ideas and not enough people are hearing him and he thinks this may help."
--CNN Producer Mike Ahlers contributed to this report
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