The Woodburn (OR) Bombing IV
Bill Long 12/19/08
Things Really Go Awry
So, the situation at 10:23 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 12 was the cell phone caller had, with one of the purchased cell phones, made contact with a person inside the Wells Fargo branch, telling her that if the people didn't leave the bank, they would die. He expected a nice orderly fire-drill march outside, where someone would pick up the cell phone near the garbage can to await instructions. So, he placed a call at 10:24 to the garbage-can cell phone. No answer. He called again at 10:26. No answer. Hm. This isn't working like the TV shows, is it? There you have people who answer cell phones, but in real life they weren't doing so.
Thus, the bomb makers/threateners had a growing problem on their hand. Instead of being "in control" of the situation, they were cut out of the situation. The bank people, of course, called 911. What would you expect? I think the fact that the bombers/threateners expected workers to march out and pick up the cell phone within five minutes meant that they weren't, in fact, very versed in the ways of crime. They tried "too hard" to control the scene.
But, as we now know, they had not only put the dummy bomb with the garbage, but they also stashed a green tool-box (the real bomb) in the hedge/flora of the West Coast bank. Of course they didn't plan to use it. In fact, from their perspective there was no way it would be used. Why? Because people would be so cowed by the threats and the seeming "coolness" of the conspirators that they would quickly retreat from the property. No one, then, would ever discover the little green box. And, they further thought, if anyone actually did conduct a search of the premises and discovered the green box, they wouldn't be foolish enough to open it without robotic or smother-type equipment. Thus, our guys thought they were completely safe. It wasn't the smartest scheme in the world, of course. And, an argument could be make that it was not only dumb but very dangerous. But they probably couldn't imagine a scenario where the bomb actually would go off.
One can see by the tenuous grip on reality that this plan suggested that the threateners were both desperate and probably not too skilled in crime. They were desperate because a growing segment of the American public is desperate; I am surprised that the crime rate hasn't gone up significantly already since the collapse of the markets in September. I think 2009 will be a very bleak year in a number of ways.
The Police Officials Show Up
Police showed up shortly therefter. Two bomb experts came, one from the State of Oregon and one from the FBI. Later, when the green box exploded, killing two men (one of whom was the Oregon bomb expert), the FBI bomb guy was not around. Why not? Where had he gone? Shouldn't he have been there? In any case, sometime later (the reports don't tell us the time), the first bomb was pronounced a "hoax." Then, time also not specified (why isn't the probable cause report more precise on this?) a Woodburn police officer found the green box outisde of the West Coast Bank branch. The manager of the West Coast branch called the landscaping company and they said the box wasn't theirs.
It was not until after 5:00 p.m., or nearly seven hours after the original calls were placed, that the green box was taken inside the West Coast branch to be dismantled. We need a better chronology or time sequence here, but it makes it look as if the green box was discovered relatively early and the officials had hours to decide what to do with it. I can think of at least a few things that I would do (call the FBI back on the scene, if they left; call the State of Oregon bomb lab for robot equipment, etc. Actually, the latter office is located in Salem, just 20-25 minutes away). The Oregon bomb expert for some reason took the bomb inside the West Coast bank (possibly because he thought it was harmless and wanted a place to work), x-rayed it and proclaimed it a "hoax." Then, with a kind of negligence that is at least as glaring as that demonstrated by the threateners/bombers, the Oregon bomb expert proceeded to dismantle the bomb with two Woodburn senior police officers (one of whom was the Chief) helping out. Is there a sort of "macho" thing going on here? That is, if the "expert" says the bomb is a "hoax," then you are being a bit of a wimp if you say, "But still, with all respect, I will not come near that thing unless we have the right protective clothing or a robot to disarm it"? Wimp, Wimp..I can hear the voices ringing in someone's ears.
The Impossible Happens
So, the impossible happened. The Oregon bomb expert started tinkering with the live bomb in the green utility box, with the two senior Woodburn police officers "helping out," the bomb went off at 5:20 p.m. killing two people immediately and critically injuring the chief, and even sending some shrapnel outside to lodge in the leg of a West Coast employee (a female) who had the wisdom to get the heck out of there. So, the Oregon State bomb expert was killed, as was a Woodburn police captain, both 51 years old. I am sure an investigation will look into the way this bomb situation was "handled," literally and figuratively. I don't know anyone at this time, however, who is running forward to defend the way that the officers handled the situation. I still want to know why the FBI bomb expert had left the scene, thus leaving only one person to make this crucial determination. Was there a written State of Oregon protocol to follow in bomb situations like this? Did the Woodburn police have a protocol? The questions will all be asked, I am sure. But, the impossible happened. A situation where no one could possibly have gotten hurt led to the deaths of two men.
The final essay tells the "rest" of the story.