A bomb maker mixed chemicals with shrapnel in what law enforcement officials say was a weapon designed to inflict maximum injuries during last week’s Martin Luther King Jr. march in downtown Spokane.
Tests are being conducted to determine the type of chemical and whether it made the bomb potentially more deadly, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said Tuesday.
“I know the bomb had some kind of chemical material inside, but we are still trying to figure out what kind. All we know there is a substance,” Knezovich said. “If there was an added dimension, it added to the lethality of it.”
Knezovich said early talks indicated the chemical could have been a compound used in common rat poison. Rat poison has been added to bombs in the Middle East for the stated purpose of acting as an anti-coagulant – which inhibits the ability of bleeding wounds to clot.
He cautioned that it was too early to confirm that mixing the chemical with the shrapnel was an overt act to make the bomb more lethal or to instill more fear.
“We are still trying to figure out this additional portion of this bomb threat. It was some kind of agent and we are not quite sure what yet,” Knezovich said. “Let’s face it, going back to my former military training as a medic, anytime you add anything to a wound it complicates the wound. It adds another dimension to clean up.”
Frank Harrill, special agent in charge of the Spokane Office of the FBI, said he could not talk about any aspect of how the bomb was made or the power of the device; it has been sent for testing at the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va.
“We are in constant communication with our laboratory and other analytical analysis resources across the county,” Harrill said. “Those findings are not likely to be made public until an enforcement action is conducted or we put out a request for further information.”
Officials said the bomb, found at the northeast corner of Washington Street and Main Avenue, was placed to concentrate the blast toward the marchers, who were rerouted after three contract workers found the black backpack and alerted Spokane Police officials.
Harrill said investigators have not executed any search warrants and are not ready to name any persons or groups as suspects.
Investigators have reviewed video surveillance and still photographs, yet have not publicized a basic suspect description such as gender, height, weight, clothing or hair color.
“Right now, we are not in a position to release that type of information or request that information,” he said. “I don’t know of any impending threat … to suggest that this is going to be repeated at any time or in any part of the country.”
Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said she chairs the Fusion Center, a statewide agency based in Seattle, that analyzes potential terrorist targets. She said she received a high-level FBI briefing last Friday in Seattle on the bomb. She declined to discuss the chemical found in the bomb.
“It’s not like some of the other types of devices I have seen in Spokane or in my career. This is one of sophistication,” she said. “We’ve got to look at this and address it as honestly and openly as we can. But we can’t compromise the investigation. Until I’m given that green light, I can only speak about matters that have been made public. But, I am not in the dark.”
Knezovich said he wasn’t sure whether the sophistication of the bomb, its contents and placement suggest someone with a military background.
“That’s a tough question to answer. If you go on the Internet, you can find how to do all this,” he said. “Someone with a good mind and following the proper instructions can end up with pretty much anything.”
Within the past decade rat poison reportedly has been mixed into bombs. Israeli security officials, for example, suspected Palestinian militants of lacing shrapnel with rat poison because of its anti-coagulant properties. Officials believed the intent was to cause wounded survivors of bombings to bleed profusely from their wounds, although the effectiveness of the method has been called into question.
A common rat poison sold in the United States, for example, is made from warfarin. The compound also is used in medicine to treat harmful blood clots.
The effectiveness of adding such chemicals to shrapnel has been questioned, yet officials agree that it adds an element of fear.
The emergency teams at all of Spokane’s hospitals would be expected to treat victims of a bombing and have the necessary medications and training in the event chemicals were used, said Adam Richards, director of emergency services at Deaconess Medical Center.
“I suspect (authorities) will communicate with us if there is something for us to learn,” added Greg Repetti, the hospital’s chief operating officer.
Each year the hospitals participate in disaster training, including recent sessions on the used of improvised explosive devices and the potential of chemicals used in weapons.
Despite those efforts, neither the FBI nor local authorities have discussed with the hospitals any details of the bomb, said Ben Haworth, safety manager for Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital.
Kirkpatrick said she has already met with Mayor Mary Verner about reminding residents to be vigilant without causing panic.
“Fear is paralyzing,” she said. “We cannot be a society of fear. We must be a society of responsible awareness.”
Kirkpatrick is confident the FBI will solve the crime, and Knezovich has offered assistance to federal agents.
Discovery of the chemical “just heightens the fact that this individual set a device that was very lethal,” he said, “and we are going to … find out who this individual was and bring him to justice.”