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Robbers Bomb Valley Offices Newspaper Bomb Probably Diversion For U.S. Bank Heist

Two masked men robbed a Spokane Valley bank and detonated a bomb inside - 11 minutes after a similar device exploded outside The Spokesman-Review’s Valley office 30 blocks away.

No one was hurt in the two Monday afternoon explosions. The blasts rocked both buildings, shattered windows and, according to one witness, “rattled your teeth.”

Spokane County Sheriff John Goldman said he believes the first bomb served as a distraction to keep authorities busy during the bank heist. He refused to say how much money was taken.

Three men believed responsible for both explosions still were at large late Monday. They included the masked robbers and a bearded driver.

A typewritten note sealed in a plastic bag was found a few feet from the first bomb.

“The note said something about this being a message from Yahweh,” said Greg Bever, Valley operations manager for the newspaper. “It had a lot of religious quotes. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

A man who was in the bank’s parking lot as the robbers fled said one yelled as he ran, “Tell the police not to mess with the militia.”

The first bomb exploded at 2:36 p.m. in an outside stairwell at the newspaper office at 13208 E. Sprague. The second bomb went off at 2:47 p.m. inside the U.S. Bank branch at Mullan and Sprague.

About 4:15 p.m., a state trooper found an abandoned van thought to be the getaway vehicle in a parking lot five blocks from the bank. The white 1991 Chevrolet van with maroon stripes had been stolen from an Ellensburg car lot sometime last weekend.

A Spokesman-Review employee who works in the circulation department discovered the bomb with its lighted fuse outside the building’s rear door. He yelled for another employee to call 911.

About a minute later, the bomb exploded, shredding the metal door, shattering windows and filling the building with smoke.

“The blast shook the building violently. … (It) lifted all 200 pounds of me up and out of my chair,” said Valley Voice editor Mike Schmeltzer. “It blew off the plastic front of my computer monitor.”

“It rattled your teeth,” said Sandy Anderson, an advertising executive. “It felt like a sonic boom.”

Bever was in the parking lot when the bomb exploded. “I thought the rear end of my car had just blown off,” he said. “The next thing I saw was smoke coming out of the back of the building.”

About 12 employees rushed out of the newspaper office.

After the explosion, Bever found a single-spaced letter in a plastic bag at the back of the building. The letter said “Greetings from Yahweh” and appeared to list several Bible verses, said Bever, who scanned the note before giving it to deputies.

“Yahweh” is the Hebrew word many white supremacists use when referring to God.

Minutes later, two men clad in camouflage pants and ski masks entered the U.S. Bank building. One carried a shotgun.

A teller working in the drive-through window said she glimpsed one robber through a cracked door. He ordered employees to line up in a corner.

“He was screaming at the top of his lungs,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. “It was scary.”

The robber yelled for everyone to evacuate the building, the teller said. “He said he had a bomb, to get out.

“We ran like hell.”

The bomb exploded just seconds after the building had emptied.

After the two blasts, authorities swarmed the Valley looking for the suspects’ van. State trooper Greg McNeilly spotted it just blocks from the bank in the parking lot of the Home Base Home Improvement Warehouse, 9718 E. Sprague.

Officers evacuated the parking lot. The city-county explosives disposal team guided a robot with a television camera to peer inside the van.

Explosives officers feared the van might be booby-trapped, said Spokane police Lt. Al Odenthal. “They set off two explosives today.”

Late Monday, two officers dressed in tan jumpsuits and armed with fire extinguishers and flashlights combed the van for explosives.

The officers found a suspicious-looking pickle jar that they treated as an explosive, Odenthal said. “This was not just a pickle jar.”

Sheriff Goldman refused to comment on any militia ties. As for the blasts, they appeared to have been caused by pipe bombs, he said, adding there was extensive property damage at both locations.

While authorities refused to release descriptions of the men, witnesses at both bomb sites described suspects who wore camouflage pants and ski masks.

Nearly 25 officials from five law enforcement agencies swarmed the bank parking lot. The agencies include the Spokane Police Department, county Sheriff’s Department, Washington State Patrol, the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Spokesman-Review officials tightened security at all of the newspaper’s bureaus. “We are relieved that nobody was hurt,” said Publisher Stacey Cowles.

“We don’t want to speculate about any connection between the bombing and any extremist group or movement,” said Editor Chris Peck. “The paper will continue to report on these groups in a comprehensive, even-handed way.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Map of bombing sites in the Spokane Valley

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = From staff reports This report was compiled by Kristina Johnson, Gita Sitaramiah, Adam Lynn, Bruce Krasnow, Todd Foster, Kim Barker, Jonathan Martin, Marny Lombard and Mike Schmeltzer.