July 13, 1996 in Nation/World

Bombers Strike Again No One Injured As Pipe Bomb Destroys Clinic Right Before Same Valley Bank Robbed

Brian Coddington, Bill Morlin And Mike Prager S Sta Staff writer
 

Armed masked men in fatigues bombed a Planned Parenthood clinic Friday moments before robbing the same Spokane Valley bank that was bombed and robbed last April.

The FBI is expected to categorize the bombing-robbery as domestic terrorism, and bring 50 or more FBI agents to Spokane this weekend to pursue leads.

The bombing-robbery on Friday is almost a carbon copy of events on April 1 when two bombs were detonated. The suspects, timing and escape plans are similar. Even the getaway vans were nearly identical. In each case, a device apparently intended to destroy the vehicle by fire was removed before it could detonate.

The April bombers and robbers - possibly linked to a secret, militant white supremacy sect - haven’t been caught. A letter left in April with bombs at The Spokesman-Review Valley office and the U.S. Bank branch used the signature of the shadowy Phineas Priesthood. No notes were left Friday.

Events Friday began when a pipe bomb exploded inside the Planned Parenthood building at 20 S. Pines about 1:41 p.m.

The family planning clinic was closed at the time and no one was injured. A woman who works in the clinic, and frequently has her child with her, took the day off.

Witnesses said two men broke a glass door and tossed a powerful pipe bomb into the clinic’s lobby before running to a late-model white van waiting two blocks away.

Kary Sweet was looking out the front window of her mother’s house on First Avenue and saw the masked men running.

“One looked like he had a gun and then we heard a boom,” Sweet said.

Pieces of the pipe and BBs were scattered across the floor. The blast blew out the windows of the office and devastated the building’s interior.

“If there were people in there, we would have had serious injuries or deaths,” said Valley Fire Chief Pat Humphries.

Sheetrock was buckled and ripped from the walls. Ceiling tiles were blown out and a small crater was left in the concrete floor just inside the entrance door. Large burn marks were visible and an interior door, blown off its hinges, lay amid the rubble.

But a rack of Time magazines, neatly displayed near the doorway for waiting patients, seemed unscathed.

Late Friday evening, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms and Washington State Patrol detectives took measurements and collected bags of flattened pieces of what appeared to be a 2-inch steel pipe. Other agents climbed fire truck ladders to inspect nearby rooftops for evidence.

One ATF agent estimated damage easily would exceed $50,000. “It’s totaled,” he said.

The force of the explosion hurled one piece of shrapnel 200 yards and drilled another chunk through two interior walls, into an adjoining dentist’s office.

That office was also closed because the staff was at a conference.

One large piece of galvanized pipe from the bomb flew over a two-story building and four lanes of traffic on East Sprague before landing in a restaurant lot at Sprague and Pines.

Several witnesses reported two gun-toting men dressed in green, camouflage ponchos and ski masks ran from the clinic just prior to the explosion.

Truck driver Jeff Short was pulling a Peterbilt semitruck and trailer into the Valley Glass Inc. parking lot at 222 S. Pines to make a delivery. As he did, two masked men ran to a white GMC van parked behind a large blue Dumpster next to the business.

Short said he and a couple of employees thought about questioning the men, but reconsidered when they saw both had guns. So Short moved his truck out of the way and headed for cover.

“We all ran inside the building,” Short said. “We didn’t want to get shot.”

While moving the truck, Short managed to catch a glimpse of the driver, who was not wearing a mask.

The description he gave - older, white man, long scruffy beard - matches the driver of a van involved the April bombing and robbery.

The van sped south on Pines, Short said.

Minutes later, they arrived at the U.S. Bank branch at 9208 E. Sprague, where three or four masked, armed men entered the bank and made off with an undisclosed amount of money.

Robbery witnesses offered various descriptions of the scene and the number of suspects.

Sheriff John Goldman said as many as four robbers were in the bank.

One witness said he saw the van pull in front of the east door of the bank and two masked gunmen get out.

“I looked into the bank and I saw everybody with their hands up,” said Marc, a witness in the drive-through who asked that his last name not be used. The robbers appeared to be armed with shotguns, and had black masks over their faces, he said. “I took off because I didn’t want to be there if they started shooting.”

He called 911 from a nearby telephone.

Another witness said he had just made a deposit and was leaving the bank through the west door when the robbers entered. “I heard one of the female employees say it was a holdup,” he said.

He glanced back and saw men wearing camouflage gear. A woman with a child was heading into the bank, and the witness said he told her to get away because of the robbery.

When the men left the bank, he said he watched their van drive east on First to Farr Road, where the driver paused a few moments before turning right.

At the nearby Falco Garden and Stove Shop, clerk Scott Carpenter said he saw the van leave the bank with a car following it. The driver of the car was using a cellular telephone.

Sheriff’s deputies said the driver was a citizen trying to help apprehend the men.

“I heard the explosion from the last time,” Carpenter said. “Here are these guys doing it again. I can’t believe it happened again.”

Sheriff’s Sgt. Doug Silver said investigators initially believed the men may have left a bomb in the bank because one witness reported seeing a bag dropped on the floor.

Deputies taped off the entire bank lot, while bomb disposal experts in special suits searched the bank. No bombs were found.

The van was abandoned at 2:10 p.m. in the parking garage at University City Mall. Sheriff’s deputies believed it was rigged to explode and called the bomb squad.

At about 6 p.m., Elvis, a bomb disposal robot, approached the van and blew out a window. It then reached into the van, pulled back blinds that were covering the rear windows and looked inside with its closed-circuit camera eye.

The camera revealed two 3-gallon propane tanks, similar to ones used for gas barbecue grills. Shortly after 7 p.m, authorities evacuated parts of the mall, including Lamonts, J.C. Penney and a half dozen stores beneath the parking garage.

The tanks were doused with water to thwart a possible trigger device, then removed at about 10:30 p.m.

Evidence experts from the FBI and the ATF converged on the van. Their work is not expected to keep the mall from opening today.

The two agencies will share the investigation, as they did for the April bombings.

“Similarities? It kind of looks that way, but who knows at this point?” said Charles Mandigo, assistant regional chief for the FBI in Seattle.

After the April 1 bombings, the FBI ranked the incident as a top priority crime and rushed more than 50 agents to Spokane.

They chased more than 500 leads and circulated bank surveillance photographs and composite drawings of the suspects, but there have been no arrests.

“Other than the obvious similarities, we cannot link the two,” Goldman said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos Map of area

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: A TALE OF TWO ROBBERIES Comparisons between Friday’s bombing/robbery and the April 1 crime spree in the Spokane Valley:

April 1

Scene 1: A bomb exploded outside The Spokesman-Review Valley office at 2:46 p.m. Scene 2: Eleven minutes later the U.S. Bank branch at 9208 E. Sprague was robbed. Religious anti-government notes were left at both locations. The suspects: Robbers wore ski masks and carried shot guns. The driver was described as an older, white man with a scruffy beard. Two men were seen running from The Spokesman-Review building after leaving the bomb. The robbers and bombers still at large. The getaway truck: A white Chevy van was reported as a getaway car. The van was left in a commercial parking lot. The timing: The bombing occurred during shift changes when most Spokane Sheriff’s Department deputies are downtown at the Public Safety Building.

July 12

Scene 1: A pipe bomb exploded at Planned Parenthood in the Spokane Valley about 1:40 p.m. Scene 2: About five minutes later, there was an armed robbery of U.S. Bank at 9208 E. Sprague. No bomb was detonated at the bank. No notes were left behind. The suspects: Robbers wore ski masks and carried shot guns. The driver of the van was described as an older, white man with a scruffy beard. Two men were seen running from the Planned Parenthood building. Suspects at large. The getaway truck: A white GMC van almost identical to the one used in April - is described as the getaway car. The van was left in a commercial parking lot. The timing: The bombing occurred during shift changes when most of the deputies are downtown at the Public Safety Building.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Brian Coddington, Bill Morlin and Mike Prager Staff writers Staff writer Jonathan Martin contributed to this report.

This sidebar appeared with the story: A TALE OF TWO ROBBERIES Comparisons between Friday’s bombing/robbery and the April 1 crime spree in the Spokane Valley:

April 1

Scene 1: A bomb exploded outside The Spokesman-Review Valley office at 2:46 p.m. Scene 2: Eleven minutes later the U.S. Bank branch at 9208 E. Sprague was robbed. Religious anti-government notes were left at both locations. The suspects: Robbers wore ski masks and carried shot guns. The driver was described as an older, white man with a scruffy beard. Two men were seen running from The Spokesman-Review building after leaving the bomb. The robbers and bombers still at large. The getaway truck: A white Chevy van was reported as a getaway car. The van was left in a commercial parking lot. The timing: The bombing occurred during shift changes when most Spokane Sheriff’s Department deputies are downtown at the Public Safety Building.

July 12

Scene 1: A pipe bomb exploded at Planned Parenthood in the Spokane Valley about 1:40 p.m. Scene 2: About five minutes later, there was an armed robbery of U.S. Bank at 9208 E. Sprague. No bomb was detonated at the bank. No notes were left behind. The suspects: Robbers wore ski masks and carried shot guns. The driver of the van was described as an older, white man with a scruffy beard. Two men were seen running from the Planned Parenthood building. Suspects at large. The getaway truck: A white GMC van almost identical to the one used in April - is described as the getaway car. The van was left in a commercial parking lot. The timing: The bombing occurred during shift changes when most of the deputies are downtown at the Public Safety Building.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Brian Coddington, Bill Morlin and Mike Prager Staff writers Staff writer Jonathan Martin contributed to this report.


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