Homemade bomb explodes at Medford DA's office

MEDFORD — Law enforcement agencies investigating a homemade bomb that exploded and damaged the front of the Jackson County District Attorney's Office Wednesday morning are confident the incident was a domestic terror attack.

"I think it's domestic terrorism, absolutely," said Medford police Chief Tim George. "Any time that part of the criminal justice system is singled out in this type of event with this type of device and intent, absolutely."

Now a joint investigation among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies is trying to determine whether terrorism fits the bill, though all agree the explosion was a targeted attack.

"I think that it's safe to assume that had this bomb went off as it was intended to, it would have most likely destroyed most of the building, and we believe that was the intent of the suspect," said Lt. Mike Budreau of Medford police.

Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert said she couldn't think of any specific threats the DA's office has received recently that could have foreshadowed the Wednesday explosion, though the office does receive angry calls.

"We upset people. We get people angry," Heckert said. "There's nothing in particular that stands out that would have alerted us that something like this could happen."

No suspects have been identified in connection with the incident, and a clear motive has not been established.

An improvised explosive device on a propane tank was detonated outside the DA's office's front doors at about 4:38 a.m. Wednesday. The concussive boom echoed in the surrounding neighborhood and shredded the front windows of the building before fire spit from the tank. The blast awakened nearby residents. Medford Fire-Rescue and Medford police responded to the office, located at 715 W. 10th St., Building A, in Medford.

"We arrived on scene and we found what appeared to be a large propane tank on fire on the outside of the building," Budreau said. "It had caused some damage to the building. There was some glass breakage and there was some interior damage. But most of the damage appears to be on the exterior, which is good."

No one was hurt and the resulting fire did not spread to nearby buildings. Even though there was an explosion, police officials said the tank did not fully detonate.

"Which is good," Budreau said. "Had that happened, it would have been very substantial damage. But it did catch fire and emitted a large flame until it eventually burned out."

The explosion closed the DA's office Wednesday, and a bare-bones crew worked out of other Jackson County offices, Heckert said. Grand jury sessions were canceled and court sessions were delayed until 1 p.m.

"This won't have any effect on any pending cases," Heckert said. "It just delays us for (Wednesday) basically."

Heckert added grand jury and arraignments will still go on as scheduled, but trials have been canceled today. If DA's office personnel are not allowed back in the building another day, the office will call people scheduled and tell them where they need to go.

"It's my hope we'll be back in the office (today)," Heckert said.

Law enforcement initially set up a large perimeter around the explosion site because of concerns that other devices could be in the area, Budreau said. Police could find none. Medford police remained on scene through the day with assistance from the FBI, Oregon State Police Bomb Squad, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Investigators spent the day combing the surrounding neighborhood, scouring the area and rooftops for blast debris and additional evidence.

George declined comment on why the full detonation was unsuccessful.

"I'm not going to go into specifics about the device itself or anything that's attached to the device, or anything that's used in the device," George said at a press conference Wednesday. "As investigators you've really got to hold that information back. There are only a couple of folks who are going to know that, and one of them is the person that put it there."

Police said there was a male wearing dark clothing several blocks away who ran from an officer, but he avoided capture. He was last seen at the intersection of 10th Street and Columbus Avenue.

"We're not sure if that is going to be related to this case or if it's going to be unrelated," Budreau said.

George said details from the materials and construction method may help identify the culprit. Police said the fact that the tank did not detonate fully is going to make it valuable as a piece of evidence.

"The explosive device was clearly intended to target a government facility, the DA's office," Greg Fowler, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, said in a release. "An attack on such a visible symbol of government and justice demands our singular focus."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

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