SPOKANE - Investigators pursued what they described as promising leads Wednesday in a chilling bombing attempt at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in which someone left a backpack filled with sophisticated explosives on a bench.
An official familiar with the case said the bomb had a remote detonator and the ability to cause mass casualties. It was defused without incident Monday but unnerved residents of Spokane, especially those who took part in a parade whose theme was steeped in peace and nonviolence.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to release information about the investigation.
The FBI said it has no suspects. But Frank Harrill, special agent in charge of the Spokane FBI office, said Wednesday that investigators are following up on “fruitful leads” they’ve received from the public. He declined to elaborate.
Harrill said the black Swiss Army backpack has been shipped to an FBI lab in Quantico, Va., for analysis. In addition to the bomb, the backpack contained two T-shirts that authorities were analyzing for clues.
Monday’s parade route was changed after the bomb was found, and most of the several hundred people who marched in the annual event did not know about the device, said Liz Moore, one of the marchers.
“No announcements were made at all,” Moore said. “It seems like a specific effort was made not to alarm people.”
The bomb was spotted by three city employees about an hour before the parade was to start, Harrill said. They looked inside, saw wires and immediately alerted law enforcement.
The bomb was carefully placed on a metal bench with a brick wall behind that would have directed shrapnel toward Main Street, where marchers were expected to pass, investigators said.
No one has claimed responsibility for planting the bomb, Harrill said.
The FBI released a photo of the backpack as it offered a $20,000 reward for information from the public. Also released were pictures of the T-shirts found in the pack. There was a gray T-shirt with writing for the Stevens County Relay for Life race last June. Stevens County is just north of Spokane County. The other dark T-shirt said “Treasure Island Spring 2009.”
Investigators are seeking anyone who took photographs or video in the area between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. Monday.
Officials have praised as heroes the city workers who spotted the backpack.
The attempted bombing on the day set aside to honor the slain civil rights leader raised the possibility of a racial motive in a region that has been home to the white supremacist group Aryan Nations.
“The confluence of the holiday, the march and the device is inescapable, but we are not at the point where we can draw any particular motive,” Harrill said.