East Texans relieved over news of arrest in mailbox bomb case weeks after church threat ended

By Schuyler Dixon, AP
Thursday, April 8, 2010

East Texans feel relief after mailbox bomb arrest

DALLAS — Carolyn Smith was so frightened after explosive devices started turning up in mailboxes in east Texas that she stopped dropping her mail in the nearby collection box where one pipe bomb was found and started taking it to the post office.

Like other residents of east Texas, the 71-year-old substitute teacher was relieved to hear about an arrest in the case, even as she waited for details from a news conference scheduled for Thursday morning. Although none of the explosive devices ever detonated, they had many in the region on edge, especially because the incidents followed a string of church fires in the area.

The arrest was announced the same day a federal grand jury in Tyler indicted Larry Gene North, 52, of Henderson in Rusk County, on a single count of unlawfully possessing a pipe bomb. North was confined without bond to the Smith County Jail in Tyler on a federal retainer, according to the jail database. No attorney was listed for him.

Neither Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesman Tom Crowley nor U.S. Postal Inspector Amanda McMurrey would confirm the connection between the indictment and Wednesday’s arrest. However, the indictment accuses North of possessing the pipe bomb on or about March 23 — the same day one was found in a mailbox near Smith’s home in the small community of Laird Hill, about 25 miles east of Tyler.

Also, U.S. Attorney John M. Bales said earlier that the man who was arrested was from Rusk County, just east of Tyler and about 140 miles east of Dallas. Bales would not provide additional details until Thursday’s news conference.

Before Wednesday, authorities said they had found at least 14 explosive devices, including five pipe bombs, over the past several weeks. ATF officials have said they believe most of the incidents are related.

No injuries were reported because of the devices, and authorities have maintained there was no immediate threat to the public.

Smith said she was “tickled to death to hear” about the arrest. “I am very relieved. Very,” she added.

Still, she said she would continue to take her mail to the rural post office near her home.

The first reports of incendiary devices in mailboxes involved bottles containing flammable liquids and wicks, authorities said. Devices resembling pipe bombs then started turning up, which raised the sense of danger felt by 27-year-old Longview resident Robert Ziemba. One pipe bomb was found in a mailbox on a busy street in Longview.

“With pipe bombs, you never know,” Ziemba said. “It could be in your backyard. It could be in your neighbor’s backyard. You don’t know where it’s going to be.”

Reports of the incendiary devices surfaced soon after the arrests in late February of two men suspected in a monthlong spree of arsons at east Texas churches that started Jan. 1.

The men are charged in one fire and suspected of intentionally setting nine others. They are being held on $10 million bond apiece and could face life in prison if convicted.

Smith said she wondered what was next for east Texas after the church fire and mailbox incidents followed so closely, each lasting a month without any arrests.

“My neighbor and I were just talking about that,” Smith said. “It’ll be some off-the-wall something. I hope this stops it. Period.”

Associated Press Writer Jamie Stengle contributed to this report.

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