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Authorities release sketch, offer reward in bombing at Colorado Springs NAACP building

January 10, 2015 Updated: January 11, 2015 at 6:58 am
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photo - FBI spokeswoman Amy Sanders holds up a sketch of a person of interest in the bombing of the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP after a press conference with local and national law enforcement agencies Friday, January 9, 2015 at the Colorado Springs Police Operations Center. The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for anyone with information leading to an arrest. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
FBI spokeswoman Amy Sanders holds up a sketch of a person of interest in the bombing of the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP after a press conference with local and national law enforcement agencies Friday, January 9, 2015 at the Colorado Springs Police Operations Center. The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for anyone with information leading to an arrest. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

Authorities released a sketch of the man they believe may have detonated a bomb in front of a local NAACP office and barbershop, though the motive, and the target of the explosion, remained unclear Friday.

The sketch, along with additional information about what the man did at the scene, was released at a news conference held by investigators, local authorities and NAACP representatives Friday afternoon.

"Our primary purpose today was to release a composite sketch of a person who was in the area at the time of the bombing, and appeared to have some involvement, as he carried something down the alley just prior to the bombing and returned to his truck empty-handed at the time of the explosion," said Thomas Ravenelle, FBI Denver's special agent in charge.

Investigators announced that the Colorado Springs Police Department would provide additional patrols in the area of the explosion, which occurred at 603 El Paso Street late Tuesday morning.

Authorities also announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case. They have not received many tips, Ravenelle said.

"Even the smallest tip can make or break the investigation," he said.

Authorities released the sketch of a balding white man in his 40s who witnesses say was driving a dirty 2000 or older-model white pickup truck with a covered or missing license plate. Ravenelle said it would be impossible to say whether the man was in Colorado Springs. Earlier Friday afternoon, the Colorado State Patrol spotted a truck matching the description and passed the information along to Colorado Springs police, though police said they had not made an arrest.

Two volunteers with the NAACP office told the New York Times that several weeks ago an angry man had walked into their offices and delivered a disjointed tirade about how the NAACP was not supporting his personal protest against local law enforcement.

Ravenelle referenced the incident at Friday's conference, saying they were looking to speak with the individual. Ravenelle would not say whether the person matched the suspect's description.

Authorities aren't saying if the civil rights organization, which has been active in Colorado Springs for decades, was the target.

Ravenelle did say authorities would be naive to ignore the fact that the NAACP, as a national organization, has "been a recipient of threats throughout their existence."

"I know what the NAACP means to some extremists in this country, so we keep all possibilities open," he said.

Questions remained about the bomb, which authorities refrained from discussing so as not to encourage potential copy cats.

It was "not a sophisticated device," Ravenelle said.

Gene Southerland, who owns the building as well as Mr. G's Hair Design Studios, which shares the space with the NAACP, said police told him the blast was caused by a flare and a pipe bomb next to a gas can, which did not ignite.

Ravenelle would not speculate about the potential power of the explosive and also did not have information about the blast radius. No one was injured in the explosion, which knocked over items on shelves inside the building and left scorch marks on the exterior of the wall and scattered bits of evidence in nearby lawns and on the street.

Pictures taken by Google Maps in September show an older, dark mark on the northeast wall of the building next to where the bomb exploded. Ravenelle said it's not something they are looking into.

"Here's the thing, whether there was a charred mark there before, whether there's a new charred mark there that's a little bit larger, the bottom line is, somebody placed a bomb outside the facility, with the intent of doing something nefarious," he said.

While acknowledging intent, investigators did not say it was an act of domestic terrorism or a hate crime.

"If we were to say this was a hate crime, or this was a terrorism incident, we could find out that somebody was upset with the owner of Mr. G's for some reason," Ravenelle said. "So we're not going to speculate. We're not going to call it terrorism, we're not going to call it a hate crime. What it is is a bombing investigation."

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, Fountain Police Chief Todd Evans, Colorado Springs NAACP President Henry Allen Jr. and regional NAACP President Rosemary Harris Lytle attended the news conference.

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call the Denver FBI tipline at 303-435-7787.

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