Helder portrayed as nice but mixed up
MENOMONIE, Wisconsin (CNN) -- Lucas John Helder describes himself as a musician, partygoer and online conversationalist on his rock band's Web site.
But the federal government paints a different picture of the 21-year-old college student accused of planting pipe bombs in mailboxes that injured six people from Illinois to Texas over a five-day period.
For some who know him it was all a little hard to believe. For others, there were some warning signs that seem apparent in retrospect.
"This is the furthest thing I could see him doing," said Matt Decorsey, a former roommate who talked with him a few weeks ago.
"He was, like I said, a really nice kid. I just don't see him being violent like this."
The news initially shocked people at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, where Helder was a junior majoring in art with a concentration in industrial design.
University spokesman John Enger said Helder never did anything that foreshadowed what he accused of.
"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."
Jeremy Johnson, a fellow art student who shared a locker with Helder for three years, told The Associated Press he was a "nice guy" but not one Johnson hung out with.
"He was into marijuana and partying and stuff and I didn't want to get into it," Johnson said.
His friends told the AP Helder carried around a stack of $20 bills and cut his shoulder-length blond hair before he left in his gray Honda from Menomonie last week.
"Whether he was on drugs or his mind flipped, we don't know," the Rev. Dennis Kampa, the family's priest in the farming community of Pine Island, a town of about 3,000 people an hour's drive from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, told the AP.
There is some indication he may not realize the trouble he is in. During a phone conversation with his parents, he asked, "'Mom, do you think I'll go to jail for this?'" Kampa said. Helder could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of some of the charges in the bombing spree.
Jason Rossow, who attended high school with Helder and was on the golf team with him, told the AP he did not recognize him wandering aimlessly -- with long hair dyed light blond -- at a festival in Pine Island last June.
"He used to be a normal kid in the crowd. Last summer, he looked lost," Rossow said.
The student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin's main campus in Madison received a letter from Helder postmarked Omaha, Nebraska, on May 3, the day the bombings started last week.
In the letter, Helder said he was on a suicide mission.
"I will die/change in the end for this but that's OK, hahaha paradise awaits," he wrote. "Surely you can understand my logic."
The letter went on to say, "conforming to the boundaries and restrictions imposed by the government only reduces the substance of your lives."
He also criticized laws against marijuana, defending the drug for giving "mental stimulation."
Helder's adoptive father, Cameron Helder, said he thought his son was "just trying to make a statement about the way our government is run.
"I think Luke wants people to listen to his ideas and not enough people are hearing him and he thinks this may help."
Adam Stowitts, a senior on the Stout campus, told the AP Helder could be "overbearing" in class but had trouble explaining what he wanted to say.
"He didn't have the social aspects to have a two-sided discussion," he said. "He had his views and he was talking, not listening."
The younger Helder's boss at a commercial cleaning business and his fellow employees described him as a good worker, conscientious, reliable and even "sweet."
Chuck Stoffel, owner of ServiceMaster, said Helder had worked from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday for the past year cleaning a pair of office buildings. On Thursday he called to say, "I won't be in tonight." The cell phone call garbled the reason he gave.
Politics, the other workers said, was not a hot topic of discussion -- music was.
Helder fancied himself a musician. He played guitar for a rock/grunge band called Apathy based in nearby Rochester that had not made it out of the small-club scene.
On the band's Web site, Helder wrote, "The top things I care about are my girlfriend ... and my music/band. I party, play guitar, and talk online to everyone. That's my life."
Sarah Brown, who ended a relationship with Helder nine months ago, told The Capital Times in Madison he was intrigued by astral projection, or out-of-body experiences, and tried in vain to achieve one several times.
Former classmates told the AP Helder loved the grunge band Nirvana and idolized its lead singer, Kurt Cobain, who killed himself in 1994.
Sheriff Dennis Balaam of Washoe County, Nevada, said Helder was held on a suicide watch during his first night in jail because he threatened to harm himself when he surrendered.
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