December 22, 2011 in City

Unity March planners urge vigilance, pushback after bomb attempt

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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On the Web: Find updates and background on the Harpham case at spokesman.com/topics/mlk-bomb.

Sue Kellogg got an uneasy chuckle when she learned that domestic terrorist Kevin W. Harpham claimed in court Tuesday that he wasn’t intending to hurt anyone with his homemade bomb, but rather just sound a loud protest by aiming it at the glass walls of the Eye Care Team building on Main Avenue.

“We had staff and customers in the (lobby of the) building that morning,” said Kellogg, who owns the building with her husband. “Sending a lot of exploding glass into the building would not have been less lethal … than setting if off in the parade.”

A day after Harpham was ordered to serve the next 32 years in prison, community reaction ranged from disbelief over the racist would-be bomber’s excuses to hope that Spokane can continue to move forward.

In court Tuesday, Harpham told Judge Justin Quackenbush he didn’t build the bomb for the Jan. 17 Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March but decided it was a “creative idea” to place it along the parade route. The bomb consisted of a 6-inch steel pipe that was loaded with black powder and 128 quarter-ounce fishing weights that had been soaked in rat poison to serve as an anti-clotting agent. He said he aimed it at the Eye Care Team building and hoped the exploding glass would add to the chaos caused by the loud report and billowing smoke as “just a statement of protest” of concepts such as unity and multiculturalism.

Frank Harrill, the supervisory senior resident agent of the Spokane office of the FBI, many times has credited the decision by Spokane police Sgts. Eric Olsen and Jason Hartman to reroute the march after three city contract workers discovered a suspicious backpack at the northeast corner of Main and Washington Street.

By rerouting the march, investigators believe Harpham, who was in the crowd, never got within the 1,000-foot effective range of the bomb’s triggering device.

But Harrill said Tuesday police and march officials did something else that helped: they didn’t inform the marchers of the route change.

“There was no announcement to the marchers,” Harrill said. “Because Harpham was in there … Harpham would likely not have known it was being rerouted.”

By the time Harpham would have discovered the change, “there would have been people present to prevent someone from retrieving the device.”

Ivan Bush, who co-chairs the organization of the march, said he recalled having some knowledge of the change.

“I had a notion as emcee that something was going on,” Bush said. “I think it was wise to play it close to the vest. We don’t even want to think about what could have happened. That would have been so very devastating. But it also teaches us that we have to practice vigilance because there are still some crazy people out there.”

V. Anne Hicks-Smith, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, agreed that Harpham’s bombing attempt – and current political speech – shows how much work remains.

“When I look back … I see fathers with babies strapped to their backs and mothers with babies held to their chests and people in wheelchairs,” Hicks-Smith said. “It’s a sad day when a young man or young woman can hate so much that they are willing to cause the death of so many.”

Harpham, 37, who was arrested March 9 outside his rural Stevens County home near Addy, will likely be in his 60s before he is released.

“The best part of his life will be gone,” Hicks-Smith said. “Hopefully, he will come out a changed person and he will be tolerant of persons’ rights.”

Kellogg, who helps manage the Eye Care Team, said she remembers officers asking workers and customers to move to the side of the building opposite of where the bomb was planted.

“They were being very cautious and couldn’t give out a lot of information that morning,” she said. “I think people get the whole terror fatigue – you hear about it over and over and it turns out to be nothing. But it seemed to us that it was very thorough and we think everybody did an excellent job from the city employees … to the federal investigators.

“It’s a really sad commentary on the fact that there is this kind of behavior out there and that it was that close to being a real tragedy. And I think it’s so unfortunate that it caused such a poor image of Spokane.”

Bush agreed, saying he hopes to change that with a record turnout for the upcoming march on Jan. 16.

“I hope it’s bigger and better than ever,” he said. “It’s especially important for us to stand up, to show up … and come out with a strong voice that we don’t tolerate this kind of stuff in our community.”


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