ASPEN, Colo. – A one-time resident of this city who had been bitter over its transformation into a playground for the rich left four gift-wrapped bombs downtown in a bank-robbery attempt, turning New Year’s Eve celebrations into a mass evacuation, police said Thursday.
The dangerous bombs were made of gasoline and cell phone parts and came with notes warning of “mass death.” The 72-year-old man suspected of placing them in two banks and in an alleyway on Wednesday shot and killed himself a short time later, police said.
The body of James Chester Blanning, who grew up in Aspen and lived in Denver since 2003, was found Thursday, police said.
Blanning walked into two Aspen banks about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and left packages wrapped in holiday paper along with notes saying the boxes contained bombs, police said. The notes threatened “mass death,” demanded $60,000 cash and included criticisms of President George W. Bush, Assistant Aspen Police Chief Bill Linn said at a news conference.
Blanning’s notes said he was targeting four banks, police said, but only two – a Wells Fargo Bank and a nearby Vectra Bank – received the packages.
Later, police found two similar packages atop a black sled in a downtown alley. Linn said the bombs were dangerous, containing plastic bladders of gasoline, but he did not say how sophisticated they were.
“We believe the suspect abandoned his plan halfway through,” said Linn, who said Blanning’s notes didn’t name the other two banks he planned to target.
The threats prompted police to clear nearly all of downtown Aspen – 16 blocks that otherwise would have been filled with tens of thousands of New Year’s revelers. Residents were allowed to return at 4 a.m. Thursday, and the town’s holiday fireworks were rescheduled for Thursday night.
Linn said police bomb squads detonated the bombs once the area was cleared, and that one of the packages created a fireball outside a Wells Fargo bank when police detonated it. No one was injured.
The Aspen Times reported that Blanning left a typewritten note at the newspaper’s offices Wednesday evening. The profanity-laced note, which appeared to match those Blanning left at banks, said “Aspen will pay a horrible price in blood” if his demands were not met.
Blanning was found dead alone in his Jeep Cherokee east of Aspen early Thursday, Linn said. In the car police found a rifle and a handgun they believe Blanning used to kill himself.