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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 20:52 GMT 21:52 UK
'Pipe-bomber' baffles friends and family
Lucas John Helder
Authorities describe Luke Helder as quiet and polite
A 21-year-old university student in the US has confessed to planting pipe bombs in rural post boxes in five Midwestern states.

While the confession apparently ends the mystery of who was behind the bombs that injured six people, deeper questions remain for friends and family.

They are left wondering how the polite, seemingly normal, young man they knew could be responsible for the bombings.

Parents baffled

Lucas John Helder admitted to making 24 pipe bombs with smokeless gunpowder and ball bearings or nails and paper clips and Christmas tree lights.

Rambling notes with anti-government messages were left in rural post boxes. Some of the notes argued that ghosts exist and that marijuana should be legalised.
Parents of Luke Helder
Cameron and Pamela Helder are relieved no one was killed

Even the authorities seem baffled by the seeming disparity between the young man they have met and their notion of someone accused of an act of domestic terrorism.

"He looks like the average college kid from the Midwest," said Dennis Balaam, a county sheriff in the state of Nevada where Lucas John Helder was arrested following a high-speed chase of more than 100 mph.

Sheriff Balaam described Luke Helder as quiet, well behaved and polite. "When I talked with him, he shook my hand and called me sir," he said.

The suspect's parents have gone into seclusion to avoid public scrutiny and try to come to grips with why their son committed a crime for which he could be sentenced to life in prison.

A sheriff's deputy is posted outside Cameron and Pamela Helder's A-frame home, an hour south of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, to keep reporters at bay.

But press photos have shown friends comforting a visibly distraught Pamela Helder.

The reality that their son was responsible is setting in for the Helders, said Reverend Dennis Kampa, who was asked by the couple to speak to the press for them.

"They're thankful no one was killed. They're very grateful nothing worse happened," Reverend Kampa said.

Cameron Helder alerted authorities that he thought his son might be responsible for the bombs after receiving a letter from him that bore similarities to the messages left with the explosives, including the phrase "mailboxes are exploding."

The Helders spoke to their son for about a half hour after he was arrested. "We are here to see our son in his hour of need," Cameron Helder told reporters after the meeting.

Ordinary young man

Residents of the Helders' hometown of Pine Island Minnesota and those who knew him at the University of Wisconsin in Menomonie Wisconsin describe Luke Helder as quite an ordinary young man.

For heaven's sake, he's not a terrorist

Rachel Stanton, mother of family friend

He played football and golf in high school and sang in the school choir.

Rachel Stanton's son played with Luke Helder in a punk band. She remembers him as a teen who once apologised for eating too much and offered to wash the dishes to make up for his over-indulgence.

"For heaven's sake, he's not a terrorist," she said. "He's not. Nobody saw this coming at all."

Some classmates described Luke Helder as becoming increasingly confrontational recently but none of them became concerned by small changes in his behaviour.

His roommate, James Devine, told authorities that Luke Helder sometimes made anti-government statements but never enough to raise concerns.

Luke Helder also was becoming interested in astral projection and out-of-body experiences, Mr Devine said, adding that the student had told him "death is the way of going on to another life and (he) is looking forward to it as a new experience," according to FBI affidavits.

University instructor Jerry Kapus said Luke Helder was an average student but an active participant in his Philosophy of Religion class.

"He never said anything that would make me believe he would do anything like this," he said.

See also:

09 May 02 | Americas
US pipe-bomb suspect in court
08 May 02 | Americas
US pipe-bomb suspect charged
05 May 02 | Americas
More US mailbox bombs discovered
04 May 02 | Americas
America hit by mailbox bombs
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