Alleged mail bomber apparently turned van into a Trump shrine
Mail bomb suspect arrested in Florida
Mail-bomber suspect Cesar Sayoc Jr. lived in a van that is a President Trump shrine on wheels, decorated with photos of the commander in chief, images of Trump’s rivals in crosshairs and full-blown screeds on the windows.
Sayoc advertised his Trump-friendly opinions loud and clear all over the van, including stickers reading “CNN SUCKS” and “ISIS HUNTING PERMIT.”
“MY PRESIDENT No Path to 270 Landslide It Was A 306-Tsunami,” a collage on a window reads, referring to Trump’s electoral-vote tally (which actually ended up at 304) in the 2016 election.
Photos show the van — which was towed from an AutoZone parking lot in Plantation, Fla., Friday after Sayoc’s arrest — was also adorned with a nonsensical rant spelled out in letter decals over his front passenger-side window.
“PRES. TRUMP CREATES 28 000 NEW JOBS IN FEB. ALONE. OBAMA-DEMOCRATS LOST 286,000 JOB,” it begins.
It concludes, “ZERO TOLERANCE KILL YOUR ENEMY AND THOSE WHO ROB YOU THEN TAKE THEM TO EVERGLADE FOR GATORS,” alongside a yellow sticker that reads “ISIS HUNTING PERMIT” and a portrait of a smiling Trump in the presidential seal.
Along the side of the van were images of Trump opponents — including Hillary Clinton, filmmaker Michael Moore, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and news commentator Van Jones — with red crosshairs over their faces.
An unidentified cousin said Sayoc, who had a recent address in Aventura, Fla., was living in the van and showering at a gym where he exercised, NBC News reported.
Mail Bomber Likely Left Many Forensic Clues, Experts Say
By Michael Biesecker and Lisa Marie Pane • Published October 25, 2018 • Updated on October 25, 2018 at 1:20 pm
What to Know
- Among the first steps for investigators will be retracing the path of the packages through the postal system or delivery service
- The envelopes and packaging materials, which one consultant called «a treasure trove of forensic evidence,» will also be closely scrutinized
- Even the most careful bomber is likely to leave behind genetic material that could be used to identify them, like skin cells or fingerprints
Investigators examining the explosive devices sent to high-profile targets in New York, Washington and elsewhere will be working to glean forensic clues to help identify who sent them, gathering fingerprints and DNA evidence while tracking the origin of the packages and the components used to make the bombs.
Larry Johnson, a former head of criminal investigations for the U.S. Secret Service who also served as a special agent in charge of the presidential protective detail, said that bomb makers usually leave evidence behind.
«If there is a human involved, there is a high probability you’re going to get somewhere investigatively,» he said. «There will be no stone left unturned.»
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Johnson said it is highly likely that the person or people who built the bombs have been previously flagged by law enforcement. The Secret Service maintains an extensive database of individuals and groups who have made past threats against presidents or other top political leaders, either through letters, emails or on social media.
«A good percentage of the time, this is not the first time whoever is responsible for this will have stuck their neck out,» Johnson said. «Those looking to do revenge or harm to someone, it doesn’t just come to them one day.»
Among the first steps for investigators will be retracing the path of the packages through the postal system or courier service used to deliver them.
The U.S. Postal Service operates a sophisticated imaging system that photographs the outside of each piece of mail processed across the country and can be used to determine the specific location of where it was sent. That’s how federal officials were led to a woman who sent poison, ricin, through the mail to President Barack Obama and then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013.
The envelopes and packaging materials themselves will also be closely scrutinized.
«It will be a treasure trove of forensic evidence,» said Anthony Roman, a private security and investigations consultant. «As human beings, we are filtering off our DNA everywhere we walk, everywhere we sit.»
Even the most careful bomber is likely to leave behind genetic material that could be used to identify them, especially traces of sweat, saliva or skin cells. There may also be fingerprints or hair.
Roman said investigators will also be collecting all available video camera footage taken from where the packages were mailed and delivered, as well as interviewing any potential witnesses in the area.
Because the devices were intercepted before they exploded, forensics experts will be able to carefully disassemble the devices and examine the components. They’ll examine the wiring, the initiating system, any timing device and seek to identify what type of pipe. The design of the bomb will be compared to other explosive devices recovered in the past.
Adam B. Hall, director of the Core Mass Spectrometry Facility at the Barnett Institute of Chemical and Biological Analysis at Northeastern University, said most devices are made from easily available materials regardless of what specific type of device it is.
It will have three primary components: the pipe, the explosive filler and an «initiator,» or mechanism to set it off. The initiator will help identify how sophisticated the bomb maker is, whether it’s a timing device or a remote trigger.
«Your typical pipe bomb, it’s not very sophisticated,» said Hall, who previously worked in the Massachusetts State Police crime laboratory and was involved in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. «A lot of the directions for this are available on the internet. . This is not something that would require days or weeks of planning in order to execute.»
Still, there are likely innumerable telltale signs that could help authorities track down how and where it was made, said Jimmie Oxley, the co-director of the University of Rhode Island’s Center of Excellence in Explosives, Detection, Mitigation and Response.
Some explosives can be homemade, which will make them more difficult to trace. But other materials must be purchased and can help narrow down where and how a device was made. Smokeless powder, for example, is virtually guaranteed to have been purchased. Black powder can be commercial grade or homemade, but it’s easy to discern which is which.
«All of these are signatures,» she said.
There are times, such as with the recent spate of bombings in Austin, Texas, as well as with the notorious Unabomber, when each device will have a different «signature» in an attempt to throw off authorities or as the person making the devices tests and finesses their technique.
Oxley said there will still likely be some commonalities that will allow law enforcement to zero in on a suspect or suspects.
«It’s not an insurmountable task,» Oxley said. «There’s a ton of evidence out there. Unless this is a really, really smart person, they will find out who did this.»
Two letter bombs went off within an hour
Although this is dramatic all on its own, another mail bomb went off less than an hour later. This package was sent to the Dutch town of Kerkrade, to an office of the Japanese electronics firm Ricoh. Moreover, this second package also came with a letter demanding payment in Bitcoin.
Local police is already drawing connections between the two bizarre mail bomb incidents. A spokesperson for the Amsterdam police, Lex van Liebergen, did not want to disclose the sum the bomber is seeking. However, she did say that the police assume the same person is behind both bombs:
“It’s fair to say that all of these are connected because the same demand was made. But we still don’t know who sent it. We are still investigating.”
These letter bombs come as the latest in a string of mail bombs in the Netherlands. The bomber or bombers appear to send the explosives to businesses of varying types. Moreover, it is unclear whether earlier letter bombs also came with Bitcoin demands. What is known, however, is that these two latest letter bombs are the first to detonate.
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In Pictures: Pipe Bombs Addressed to Hillary Clinton, Obama, CNN, Others
Sayoc could get life in prison at sentencing Sept. 12 on 65 counts, including using weapons of mass destruction and mailing explosives with intent to kill. In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors dropped a charge that carried a mandatory life sentence.
Sayoc was accused of sending rudimentary bombs — none of which detonated — to 16 targets, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden, several members of Congress, former President Barack Obama and actor Robert De Niro. Devices were also mailed to CNN offices in New York and Atlanta
The bombs began turning up weeks before the hotly contested midterms, contributing to an already tense political environment.
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Sayoc was arrested in late October at a Florida auto parts store. He had been living in a van plastered with Trump stickers and images of Trump opponents with crosshairs over their faces.
On Thursday, he told the judge that he made objects designed to look like pipe bombs and filled them with explosive powder from fireworks.
«Did you intend they would explode?» U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff asked.
«No, sir,» Sayoc said.
«What would prevent powder from fireworks from exploding?» Rakoff asked.
«I was aware of the risk they would explode,» Sayoc said.
The first of the bombs was discovered Oct. 22 in a mailbox at an estate in New York City’s northern suburbs owned by the billionaire George Soros, a liberal political activist and frequent subject of conspiracy theories.
A device addressed to the Clintons was discovered the following day, followed a day later by a slew of bombs found at the homes or offices of prominent Democrats. One, addressed to former CIA director John Brennan, was sent to CNN in New York.
Others targeted included California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
Over several days, investigators tracked the packages to a mail center in Florida. Prosecutors said the evidence against Sayoc included DNA that linked him to 10 of the devices and fingerprints on two of them.
A Ret. Bomb Technician Explains Package Bombs and Trip Wires Used in Austin Bombings
A UPS driver delivers a package to the house across the road from where the fourth bomb went off in Austin, Texas on March 20, 2018. Photo by Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images
A Ret. Bomb Technician Explains Package Bombs and Trip Wires Used in Austin Bombings
A Ret. Bomb Technician Explains Package Bombs and Trip Wires Used in Austin Bombings
December 04, 2021
For nearly three weeks in March 2018, the city of Austin, Texas was terrorized by a serial bomber. Suspect Mark Conditt, a 23-year-old Texas native, allegedly detonated five package bombs—killing two and injuring five others—before he killed himself by detonating an explosive inside his own vehicle when he was cornered by SWAT team members.
According to police, Conditt left behind a 25-minute recorded confession, but he did not explain his motive. He didn’t mention an affiliation with a terror group or whether his attacks were racially or religiously motivated.
To better understand package bombs and the serial bombers who employ them, A&E True Crime spoke with Tina Sherrow, a retired bomb technician and certified explosives specialist for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). During her time with the ATF, Sherrow investigated dozens of bombing cases, including six serial bombers.
It seems like the perpetrator tried to use FedEx to send some of his bombs. The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, sent his bombs by U.S. Postal Service. How common is it for bombers to try to send bombs through the mail?
It’s rare, but it happens. It’s difficult to build something that you know is going to survive the rigors of going through the mail. It takes a little more of an advanced skill level to create.
How might someone know, without opening it, that a package contains a bomb?
There might be no return address, oily stains, wires protruding. Then there’s the weight: if it feels kind of lop-sided. It’s also possible that the explosive material will smell funny and emit an odor through the seams of the box.
Do mail bombs require sophistication to create?
I wouldn’t say “sophistication.” If you know anything about basic circuitry or know how to build things or are mechanically inclined, this is not terribly difficult to do. It’s…someone who has taken more time than the average guy who sets a pipe bomb out there.
We have bomb technicians in the military who deal with far more advanced technology than this.
Does this case remind you of any others you’ve worked on?
It’s most reminiscent to me of the Eric Rudolph case—[he bombed] the Centennial Olympic Park (in Atlanta, Georgia) in ’96, the Otherside Lounge (also in Atlanta) and then the Birmingham device (where he bombed an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama).
It’s reminiscent because of the terror he inflicted on the city of Atlanta. Our leads were few and far between…and we didn’t know his motive until he started sending his letters and messages.
While they weren’t package bombs, per se, they were just concealed in different types of containers.
Those were more advanced [than the Austin bombings] because they were mechanically timed.
As opposed to?
With Austin, it sounds like they were all victim-operated devices. Even the one with the trip wire.
Why are timed bombs considered more advanced than one that’s victim-operated?
I have no idea what the components were in Austin, but it seems like these were place-and-go, without a timing mechanism. Sometimes anti-disturbance devices like that are dangerous for the bomb technician in that you can’t bump it…but the Eric Rudolph devices were different in that you didn’t know if you had a 12-hour window or 30 seconds.
The trip wire that the Austin bomber used sure sounded pretty sophisticated.
The element that’s more diabolical about the trip wire is that we consider it a booby trap. It’s not that much more difficult to employ, it’s just another step into the design that the bomber has made. While to the lay person it sounds like something very different, it was just a different means of the package opening.
Whenever there’s a serial bomber on the loose, a lot of people tend to assume that the perpetrator is some kind of terrorist, motivated by an extremist political agenda. In your experience have you found that to be true?
It’s a misconception. We as human beings naturally try to mind-read and jump to conclusions, but with every bombing case I’ve ever worked, it’s a different motive every time: revenge, love triangles, an ex-wife’s new boyfriend.
Mickey Antonelli was a serial bomber… He didn’t like that [his ex-wife] had a new boyfriend. The first device was the intended target. The second device was a completely random person. The third one…took place in a completely different place.
The Danville [Illinois] Church bombings had something to do with [the perpetrator’s] brother being paralyzed when he was younger.
The Hammond, Indiana serial bombings in the early ’90s were police officers using the devices as distractions in one area of town while they committed burglaries in another area of town while law enforcement was preoccupied.
What about race-related bombings? The first victims in the Austin bombings were Black, leading to speculation about this being a hate crime. Have you investigated many hate-crime bombings?
I’ve investigated dozens of bombings and hundreds of explosions. In my years of working, I don’t recall any bombing investigations that were hate crimes, with one exception: a commercial firework that somebody placed into a Middle Eastern family’s van.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about serial bombers?
It’s easier to do than people think it is. We’re very fortunate in the United States that it doesn’t happen more. But law enforcement has definitely learned lessons over the years from Eric Rudolph-type bombings to be better than we were years ago.
It seems like there’s a lot of secrecy on the part of law enforcement about what’s in these bombs.
We can’t release information on the devices to preserve the integrity of the investigation, and I know that’s hard for people. They want to know. But the reality is, knowing the details of the device isn’t going to make you any safer.
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