January 4, 1996 in Nation/World

Fed Agent May Have Been Target Bomb Injured Episcopal Priest But May Have Been Aimed At Atf

New York Times
 

A note found at the scene of a bomb explosion here has opened the possibility that the bomb, which injured an Episcopal priest, was planted in error and that the target may have been a retired federal agent who lives across the street.

Investigators refused to disclose all of the note, which they said was damaged in the explosion Monday that injured the Rev. Michael Schnatterly as he stood in his driveway.

The note was “personal in nature,” said Robert J. Browning, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, characterizing the bulk of the message, with the exception of the last sentence, which seemed to point to retaliation against a government agency or employee.

James Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Birmingham ATF office, read the last sentence of the note: “At last the time has come for the …” Cavanaugh said that at this point, the note was damaged and includes an illegible word, then continues, “… of Alabama to unite against the ATF conspiracy.”

But what is in the note does suggest, Browning said, that the person who planted the bomb may have been aiming for Fred Thomas, who retired on a disability pension from the ATF almost 20 years ago.

Now a budget officer in the custodial department of Auburn University, Thomas is well-known as much for his federal service as for his wife, June, an unsuccessful candidate in 1994 for county clerk.

Browning said that in addition to trying to determine whether Schnatterly was the intended target, investigators are pursuing the possibility that Thomas was the target based on his work with the firearms agency. That work involved mostly investigations of moonshiners, he said.

But, Browning said, neither are investigators ruling out the possibility of “a militia-type group” of the kind that has been connected with the suspects in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building last April.


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