Bomb attempt at MLK march


FBI agents cross the bridge on 12 Mile Road during their investigation of Kevin Harpham on March 9, 2011, near Addy, Wash.

A backpack, containing a bomb capable of “multiple casualties,” was discovered Jan. 17, 2011, in downtown Spokane.

Public facilities district workers reported the package at 9:26 a.m., just before the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March was set to begin. Investigators received numerous photos and video taken that day of the area around Washington Street and Main Avenue.

The FBI confirmed the next day that the Swiss Army-brand backpack contained a bomb that could have caused “multiple casualties” and credited Spokane city employees who noticed the suspicious bag and alerted authorities in time to re-route the parade. Chemicals were mixed with shrapnel in what law enforcement officials say was a weapon designed to inflict maximum injuries.

Federal agents arrested Kevin W. Harpham, an ex-soldier with ties to the white supremacist movement, on Wednesday, March 9.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment against Harpham on March 22, 2011, officially charging him with placing the bomb. Harpham, 36, was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an unregistered explosive device. He initially pleaded not guilty.

In a plea deal made Sept. 7, 2011, he pleaded guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to cause bodily injury with an explosive device with a racist motive.

Three Spokane police sergeants were honored for their efforts to quickly divert thousands of marchers to a new route and for their other work that day. Officials lauded Jason Hartman, Chuck Reisenauer and Eric Olsen as heroes for their work and gave them a standing ovation at a City Council meeting Jan. 24.

After an unsuccessful attempt by Harpham to withdraw his guilty plea, U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush sentenced Harpham to 32 years in prison on Dec. 19, 2011.

Key people

  • Kevin Harpham

    Kevin William Harpham is a 36-year-old ex-soldier with no major criminal record but ties to the white supremacist movement. He had been living in a home he built on 10 acres of land on a Stevens County hillside south of Colville. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization, said Harpham in 2004 was a member of the National Alliance. The group was founded by the late William Pierce, whose novel “The Turner Diaries” was believed to be the blueprint behind the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh.

Key places

  • Auntie’s Bookstore

    Across the street from the bench where the bomb was placed is Auntie’s Bookstore, in the Liberty Building.

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