Explosives near Kansas Statehouse lead to ... release of suspect?
He came. He brought bombs. Kansas police let him go.
Mark it down as one of the odder-seeming terrorism scares in recent memory, at least thus far. On Wednesday morning, a Kansas state employee called police after noticing a funny-looking pickup truck parked in a restricted lot near the Statehouse.
Its hood was missing, and its front grill was crunched; it had a specialty Florida license plate solely for U.S. paratroopers; and it was smattered with bumper stickers that said such things as “Welcome to America. Now speak English.”
The truck also contained an empty gun holder — and several small homemade bombs designed to spray shrapnel, a Capitol Police spokesman said.
Police cleared the bombs from the area and, using the plate numbers, got a photo of the driver. They soon tracked him down in a tunnel between the Capitol and legislators’ offices. After interviewing the suspect, who Capitol Police said lives in Kansas and was unarmed, investigators searched his home. There, they said, they found bomb-making materials.
Open and shut case of potential terrorism, right? Not quite.
A day after the scare, the suspect, whom police will not identify, is free. In fact, according to Capt. Jimmie Atkinson of the Kansas Highway Patrol: “In this one, we did not actually take the suspect to jail and arrest him.”
Count that as one of the very few solid facts that’s been released thus far in a case that remains hazy.
When asked about the case Thursday morning, officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Kansas Highway Patrol and Topeka Police Department even seemed somewhat confused about who was in charge of the investigation.
Finally, by Thursday afternoon, Atkinson said: “We are going to be going forward with the charges because the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] did not want to file charges.”
What charges would be filed? Atkinson wouldn’t say. Nor would he say why the suspect was at the Capitol.
Police said Wednesday that the man claimed to have an appointment inside the Capitol when confronted by the authorities, but no appointment was verified.
The apparent anti-immigrant stickers on the truck raised eyebrows, as the Kansas legislators were meeting that day to discuss contentious immigration legislation that would crack down on undocumented workers, who play a significant role in Kansas’ agricultural industry. A rally outside the Capitol drew about 300 protestors, according to a count by the Topeka Capitol-Journal.
When asked whether he thought the suspect, now free, posed any danger, Atkinson paused and then said he wouldn’t speculate. “Anybody could be dangerous,” he said. “I can say if we thought he’d be a continued threat, more than likely we would have kept him incarcerated, and we would have posted the bond then.”
He wouldn’t say any more.
Atkinson said the charges would be hashed out with the Shawnee County district attorney next week -- the earliest day an appointment could be arranged.
Capitol Police said the suspect did not have any connection to another man who was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of making threatening phone calls to the governor.
-- Matt Pearce in Kansas City, Mo.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Photo: Homemade explosives were found in this pickup parked near the Kansas Statehouse on Wednesday. Credit: John Milburn/Associated Press