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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

Clark: Boston-style bombing could have happened in Spokane

And just like that, Boston’s mind-boggling week of murder and mayhem was over.

A law enforcement ensemble from what looked like every jurisdiction in copdom caught the last terrorist punk Friday night.

Nineteen-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, bloodied and dazed from a shootout, was found cowering in a Watertown resident’s backyard boat, out of bombs, bullets and bravado.

“YES!” I yelled at the TV, and I know I wasn’t the only one.

Now come the questions …

Why didn’t any of this kid’s family members or classmates see this coming?

Was Dzhokhar’s older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police the night before, the radical mastermind who orchestrated the Boston Marathon bombings and turned his younger brother to the Dark Side?

Will Boston ever be the same?

Then another thought came to mind that was closer to home.

Three years ago, Spokane had its own brush with a backpack bomb and human evil.

A novel I read recently spoke of how life and death are sometimes separated by the thinnest of circumstances. That was certainly the case here on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 17, 2011.

I shudder to think how different things would have been for us were it not for three temporary workers who were pulling a shift for the city’s Public Utilities District: Mark Steiner, Brandon Klaus and Sherman Welpton.

Ring a bell? Didn’t with me, either.

I’m embarrassed to say that I had to do a computer search to get the names of the trio that arguably saved Spokane from a Boston-like carnage.

The men noticed the backpack. It had been placed along the route soon to be filled with marchers honoring the late civil rights leader. They could have just as easily ignored it, but they didn’t. They opened the package, saw wires and called authorities.

Eric Olsen and Jason Hartman, two police sergeants, smoothly ordered the march diverted.

It took some time, but the clues led investigators to the cancer behind this mad act: Kevin W. Harpham, a 36-year-old self-avowed white supremacist from rural Addy, Wash.

Racist. Islamic fanatics … A terrorist by any other name still stinks the same.

In federal court, Harpham made a ludicrous and failed attempt to dismiss his unexploded handiwork as a “creative” protest against the so-called evils of multiculturalism.

Those in the know say Harpham’s bomb was beyond diabolical. Laced with rat poison, the weapon was designed to be detonated from as far as 1,000 feet away. Dozens could have died or been mutilated horribly.

Harpham was sentenced to 32 years in prison, the maximum allowed under a plea bargain struck between Harpham’s attorneys and prosecutors.

That still doesn’t seem like enough.

It’s easy to take for granted the things that don’t happen, but watching the horrors unfold in Boston should drive home just how lucky we were.

Limbs blown off. Lives lost. In an eye blink, one of the nation’s most revered athletic events had turned into a bloody war zone.

Then things got even more surreal.

Carjacking. Kidnapping. A police officer killed. Citizens told to stay in their homes.

Before last Monday, would anyone have imagined that two angry young men could paralyze a city such as Boston?

And who would imagine that Spokane would be spared by the grace of God and a few contract workers?

It’s true. History sometimes really does turn on a dime.

Doug Clarkcan be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at
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