FBI looking for man regarding explosion near Colorado Springs NAACP office

January 7, 2015 Updated: January 7, 2015 at 5:52 am
photo - A bomb squad member comes down from the roof as police investigate the scene of an explosion Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2014, at Mr. G's Hair Salon at 603 S. El Paso Street in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
A bomb squad member comes down from the roof as police investigate the scene of an explosion Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2014, at Mr. G's Hair Salon at 603 S. El Paso Street in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

The FBI is looking for a man in connection with an explosion outside the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP on Tuesday.

According to FBI officials, a device was detonated against the wall of the building at 603 S. El Paso St. shortly before 11 a.m.

A gas can had been placed next to the device but was not ignited by the explosion, officials said in a news release.

The explosion charred the exterior wall of the building, but no one was injured and no other damage was reported.

The FBI said it is looking for a person of interest, described as a balding white man in his 40s who may be driving a dirty, 2000 or older model white pickup truck with paneling, an open tailgate and a missing or covered license plate.

"Some neighbors came out and said they saw a Caucasian gentleman get into a white truck," said Gene Southerland, who owns Mr. G's Hair Design Studios, which shares the building with the NAACP office.

"It was such a beautiful day and everything, sunny. And in broad daylight, you hear this explosion. It's frightening," he said.

Southerland, a customer and a beautician were inside the business at the time of the explosion, which knocked down a few plastic bottles on a shelf in the northeast corner of the building, he said.

"I had a corrections officer in my chair, and he said it sounded like a shotgun blast," Southerland said.

Two volunteers in the NAACP office around 
10:45 a.m. heard a loud "boom" that was strong enough to knock items off the walls, said Henry Allen Jr., president of the chapter. He was not there at the time but said the volunteers looked outside to see what had happened and saw what they described as a gas can rigged with some kind of incendiary device.

Allen said he is hesitant to call the explosion a hate crime without further information from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies investigating but said the organization "will not be deterred."

"We believe in civil rights for all, and really we won't work in fear and we won't be deterred," he said. "We'll move on. . This won't deter us from doing the job we want to do in the community."

He said that about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, he rushed to his office to see if any threats had been phoned in while people were out of the office for the holidays. Both Colorado Springs police and FBI investigators were on scene Tuesday afternoon, though police spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley deferred questions to the Denver office of the FBI. Streets surrounding the building at El Paso Street and Moreno Avenue were blocked off for several hours while the explosion was investigated.

A man who lives across the street from the building and asked not to be identified said the explosion woke him up.

Another neighbor, Raquel Valdez, 21, said she was chatting with people at the office of the Urbanites Leading the Pikes Region, on Moreno Avenue, when she heard a "big boom."

She said didn't think much of it until she saw police tape and law enforcement in the area.

The neighborhood, she said, is not always a quiet one.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn was following the situation from his office in Washington and expressed thanks that there were no injuries.

"I'm thankful that none of the volunteers or employees of the Colorado Springs NAACP were injured in today's apparent bombing," he said in an email to The Gazette. "I hope that the FBI investigation is able to swiftly apprehend the people responsible for this act of violence and intimidation."

The national office of the NAACP also released a statement Tuesday, stating that it "looks forward to a full and thorough investigation into this matter by federal agents and local law enforcement."

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call the Denver FBI's tip line at 303-435-7787.

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