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Finders of MLK bomb say they were fired for actions

The three men who were hailed as heroes by Spokane’s mayor and police chief for finding a bomb and reporting it to police say they lost their jobs for their actions that day.

The three men were employed by Labor Ready and working under contract for the Spokane Public Facilities District on Jan. 17, when they came upon a backpack and discovered the bomb that was placed along the route of the annual march commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. The names of the men had been withheld since the incident even as high-profile leaders labeled them heroes. Kevin Twohig, CEO of the district, said they didn’t want to disclose their names until a bomber had been arrested to protect their safety.

Twohig released the names on Thursday. They are Mark Steiner, Brandon Klaus and Sherman Welpton. Attempts made to reach them were unsuccessful, but they told KHQ in a live interview that they were “chewed out” for their actions by officials from Labor Ready and the facilities district and that they were “let go” soon after.

“For the first two days, basically all we did was get chewed out. We did this wrong. We did that wrong,” Steiner told KHQ. “I don’t know what you consider calling 911 wrong after two minutes after we found it.”

An attempt made to reach Labor Ready late Thursday was unsuccessful. KHQ reported that a Labor Ready manager denied that the men had been fired.

Twohig said that the men were not disciplined by the district.

The three Labor Ready workers and two district employees, Event Supervisor Matt Meyer and Event Manager Mike Gaffaney, later were honored at an employee event and presented with Standing Ovation Awards, which came with $10 gift certificates to Fred Meyer.

“They kept the incident from evolving into something much more dangerous,” Twohig said.

However, he added that there was concern that “they were messing around with the bomb.”

“I think they put themselves at more risk than they needed,” Twohig said.

Steiner told KHQ that they were not trained to deal with suspicious packages.

“We’d go out, and we’d clean up parking lots. Who knows what happens when you see a backpack sitting there,” Steiner told KHQ. “The first reaction is to pick it up and that’s what we did, and we opened it, saw wires sticking out of it and called police.”

At her State of the City speech in February, Mayor Mary Verner singled out the three men – who at the time were still unnamed.

“They did not ignore what they thought was suspicious, and many of us owe them our lives,” Verner said in her speech.