Hate crime not ruled out for Center City mail bomb motive

Essam Rabadi

Essam Rabadi

A Center City man was seriously injured after he opened a mail bomb early Tuesday, and authorities are investigating whether the attack could be a hate crime.

The 60-year-old man, who authorities did not identify, opened the padded, oversized envelope at 4 a.m. in his kitchen, apparently believing it contained medical inhalers he routinely received in the mail.

But the package exploded, spraying him with shrapnel and injuring his hands, face, and upper body, police said. He remains in stable condition after surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, police said.

Police determined the package, which was addressed to the victim, contained a “device” intended to explode.

The motive remains a mystery, but investigators haven’t ruled the attack out as a hate crime. The man’s apartment, on the ground floor of a row house on Pine Street near 18th, had a rainbow “Love Trumps Hate” sign taped in the window, sparking concerns that the attack may have been motivated by political fervor or homophobia.

“We don’t have a motive, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t track down every possible lead,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said, adding that they’ve found no link to any group or ideology.

Essam Rabadi, special agent in charge of the Philadelphia field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, agreed: “You can see from the collective response here, obviously we will bring every resource to bear to try to figure out what actually happened here. This is not something we see every day in our city here, so I assure you, no expense will be spared, and we will use every available resource to try to identify the person responsible for this crime.”

Besides city police and the ATF, the FBI and U.S. Postal Service also are investigating.

Explosives in Philadelphia aren’t unheard of. The bomb squad, firefighters, and other emergency responders periodically handle reports of pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails, and other such crude weapons. Statistics weren’t immediately available.

But Rabadi described this bomb — triggered by the victim when he opened the envelope — as “different” in its construction. He wouldn’t comment further on what made it different or how sophisticated its construction was, but confirmed that investigators are examining the device now to determine its complexity and other clues that could help them identify its creator.

Investigators haven’t determined if the package arrived via mail or was placed on the man’s steps.

They also are looking into reports that the package sat on the man’s stoop for several days before he opened it. He worked as a caterer and had been traveling; he opened the package when he got home, Rabadi said. Another person was home at the time of the explosion but wasn’t injured, Rabadi said.

Police closed the tree-lined block to traffic and evacuated the building for hours, as the bomb squad swept the area to make sure there were no more explosives. They also hunting through surveillance video footage from area residents in hopes of identifying the bomber.

Nellie Fitzpatrick, who directs the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs, is paying close attention to the investigation.

“If this package was specifically addressed to this individual with an explosive inside, that is a horrific, violent attack, and to singly target that specific individual is a horrific assault to humanity,” Fitzpatrick said. “Investigations take time, and I’m grateful that they are doing a thorough job. Whether or not this was a targeted attack based on someone’s sexual orientation, we will all wait to see how this investigation plays out. Even the discussion of whether this is a hate attack will be triggering to people in the LGBT community and beyond. We need to be alert and aware and thoughtful of our surroundings and in the way we are treating each other and interacting with each other. I know it may sound cliche, but this is the time to say it: If you see something suspicious, you need to say something.”

Authorities are asking the public for tips to help solve the crime. Tipsters can call police at (215) 686-TIPS or the ATF at (888) ATF-BOMB.

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