U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms officers Tuesday located a suspected pipe bomb at a U.S. Postal Service location in rural Rusk County.
The device was reportedly located within a blue mailbox outside the post office in the Laird Hill community on Texas Highway 42 in northern Rusk County.
An unidentified official on the scene said that federal authorities were in charge on the investigation and that the device appeared to be a bomb. “We’re not sure what’s inside, but it looks like a large pipe bomb,” he said.
The pipe bomb discovery comes on the heels of dozens of Molotov cocktail-type devices being found in postal collection boxes across Rusk County and East Texas during the past month.
While the devices discovered earlier this month have been described as beer bottles filled with some type of accelerant with a wick taped to the top of the bottle, the latest development has increased the threat.
A Molotov cocktail would need to be lit to be a more immediate concern, but now officials said that if the device found Tuesday is in fact a bomb, the concern level increases.
“If this is an actual explosive device, it obviously raises our concerns significantly, not only for our employees but for the public,” said Amanda McMurrey, U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman. “Though we’ve been aggressively investigating the prior incidents at other post offices in East Texas, this definitely ups the ante.”
When the device was found shortly after 4 p.m. by a postal worker collecting the mail from a collection box directly in front of the post office, local and federal authorities were dispatched to the scene.
Tyler-based ATF agents arrived at the scene with postal inspectors, assessed the situation and decided to have an ATF bomb team from Dallas remove the device.
As area residents and passersby stopped to look at the scene, officials kept everyone away from the blue box and the device inside and waited for the bomb team, which arrived shortly after 8 p.m.
Later, an ATF agent donned a Kevlar bomb suit and headgear so he could safely approach the scene to retrieve the device. Officials pushed everyone back and blocked several main roadways to prevent even passing motorists from being in harm’s way should the device detonate.
At this point, investigators believe it is premature to associate the device with those found previously.
“Right now we don’t know,” said McMurrey. “It’s too early to say if the cases are connected or someone just saw the others on TV and thought they might want to steal the limelight.”
With most of the attention centered upon the discovery of the pipe bomb at the Laird Hill post office, few were aware that law enforcement officials recovered another Molotov Cocktail-type device just a few miles away on County Road 174.
Rusk County Sheriff Danny Pirtle confirmed to the Henderson Daily News that a report was filed by one of his officers before turning the case over to federal authorities.
The device found at the East Texas Police Academy, which is part of the Kilgore College campus, was described by Kilgore College Police Martin Pessink as Molotov type.
“It was a Gatorade bottle with some type of liquid sitting in a steel bucket filled with kitty litter or some type of oil soak. The bottle had a piece of rope sticking out of it and the whole thing smelled like diesel fuel,” Pessink said late Wednesday afernoon.
Pessink said several Texas Rangers were headed to the firing range when they located the device Tuesday. The Rangers then called ATF agents who took the device from the area. “It is certainly causing us to increase patrols around our campus and training grounds and to look at implementing other security measures as well,” he said.
For each of the Molotov Cocktail cases, the person or people responsible could face up to three years in a federal prison on each charge.
ATF Special Agent in Charge Robert R. Champion stated, “The ATF will utilize all resources necessary to aid in the capture of the person or persons responsible for these devices, or any explosive devices for that matter, that could potentially harm the public.”
“The safety of our employees and customers are of utmost concern,” said Fort Worth Division Inspector in Charge Randall C. Till. “This is a priority investigation, Postal Inspectors will not rest until the person responsible is in custody.”
Anyone with information about the incidents in Rusk County is urged to contact the Tyler ATF office at 903-590-1475 or the U.S. Postal Inspector at 817-359-2700.
There is a $5,000 reward in the case for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible.