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Police: Suspect planned smiley face bomb pattern

Helder gestures to reporters as he returns to the county jail in Reno after appearing in court.  

RENO, Nevada (CNN) -- Accused mailbox bomber Lucas Helder told authorities he was planting pipe bombs in a pattern to show a happy face during his five-state weekend spree.

Helder made the admission to an undercover officer present at his arrest Tuesday, according to Lt. Thom Bjerke of the Pershing County, Nevada, Sheriff's Department.

"He seemed kind of carefree or amused about what was going on," Bjerke told CNN Thursday.

Helder has admitted he planted 18 pipe bombs in five states, knowing that people would be injured when they exploded, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Denney said Wednesday.

His parents, Pamela and Cameron Helder, looked grim and harried when they visited him in jail Thursday, a day before his scheduled transfer to Iowa, the first state where charges were filed against him.

"We are here to see our son," said Cameron Helder, the young man's adoptive father. "We told him we love him. I feel a lot better after speaking to him."

The father thanked the FBI and the Washoe County, Nevada, Sheriff's Department "for making this visit with Luke possible so that we have a better understanding of what's going on in his mind."

"Our heart goes out to the families of victims and the victims," he said. "We're really sorry."

Transfer to Iowa set Friday

Map: Bombing sites 
Federal charges
against Helder

  • Use of an explosive to maliciously destroy property
  • Use of a destructive device to commit a crime of violence
    (Read the criminal complaint -- PDF)

  • Use of an explosive to maliciously destroy property affecting interstate commerce
  • Use of a destructive device to commit a crime of violence
    (Read the criminal complaint -- PDF)

  • 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

    Lucas Helder will be moved Friday from Reno, according to Rich Murphy, an assistant U.S. attorney, to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "He's scheduled to be in court here at 4:30 p.m. CT," Murphy said.

    A two-count criminal complaint was filed Tuesday in federal court in Iowa, charging the student with using bombs to maliciously destroy property and to "commit a crime of violence" that injured a woman in rural Tipton. (Read the charges in Iowa -- FindLaw PDF)

    Conviction on that offense could result in a life prison sentence.

    Similar federal charges were filed against him in Illinois. (Read the charges in Illinois -- FindLaw PDF) In Nebraska, he faces another federal charge of interstate transportation of explosives. In Nevada, he faces a federal charge of possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime.

    During the first court appearance Wednesday for the clean-cut college student and one-time rock band member, Denney said police seized a shotgun loaded with a single round from Helder's car following a high-speed chase on an interstate in Nevada.

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

    Helder was heading to California with six unexploded pipe bombs in his trunk when he was captured, Washoe County Sheriff Dennis Balaam told reporters Thursday.

    The weekend spree has sparked alerts and possible copycat crimes. In Spokane, Washington, officials said several small explosive devices were placed in mailboxes around town.

    But police said the bombs were not placed to go off when someone opened the mailboxes, as the ones in the Midwest were.

    "We think that this is a prank by probably a juvenile in that area," said U.S. Postal Inspector Larry Carlier.

    The Spokane explosives were made from plastic bottles filled with chemicals that react when mixed, producing gases that eventually blow the bottles apart.

    They were placed in a small area, and were "nothing like what we've experienced in the Midwest," Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk said.

    In Indiana, several pipe bomb-like devices found in mailboxes in the eastern part of the state did not appear to be connected to the Helder spree, federal authorities said Wednesday. (Full story)

    Appeared at ease in court

    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."

    Denney said Helder waived his Miranda rights before admitting he planted the bombs in five states -- pointing out the towns on a map.

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

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

    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 attorney. 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.

    Helder's admissions to the FBI were made public Wednesday 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. Another eight bombs were placed in Nebraska and one each in Colorado and Texas, the affidavit said.

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


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