LITTLETON, Colo. – Investigators want to question a person of interest about a pipe bomb and propane tanks found after a fire at a Littleton mall, a discovery that raised the possibility of a connection to the Columbine massacre anniversary.
Firefighters found two propane tanks and the bomb near the Southwest Plaza Mall’s food court after a small fire broke out Wednesday that was quickly squelched. The mall was evacuated around noon. No one was injured and the bombs didn’t explode.
Wednesday was the 12th anniversary of the shooting rampage at nearby Columbine High School and officials expressed concern that the mall incident could be somehow linked.
“The fact that has happened on April 20, 12 years later, near the school and with similar devices is very disturbing,” Jefferson County sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacki Kelley said.
A possible connection to Columbine will be explored.
“It’s something that can’t be ignored and won’t be ignored,” Kelley said.
The mall is about two miles from the school, where two student gunmen killed 13 people and themselves on April 20, 1999 in a rampage that stunned the nation.
Unexploded pipe bombs and a propane tank with explosives attached were found in the school after the shootings.
“If it’s kids, they’re crazy not to know what this means in this town,” Margie Hecht, who lives near the mall, told The Denver Post. “I remember that day and they wouldn’t think this is funny if they did.”
Through the years, students across the country have been accused of threats and incidents modeled after Columbine.
FBI spokesman Dave Joly said authorities have identified a person of interest seen on surveillance video entering a stairwell he said isn’t typically used by the public.
The man could be a witness or a suspect, Kelley said.
He is described as a white male with graying hair and a silver mustache. Photos taken from surveillance show him in a dark cap, gray and white striped shirt, dark jacket, blue jeans and dark shoes. He is seen entering a stairwell and carrying a white plastic bag.
Joly said it was too early to speculate whether the incident was an act of terrorism.
Sheriff’s officials said there are usually about 6,000 to 10,000 people in the mall around noon each day. Shoppers and about 300 mall employees left after the fire.
A daylong search didn’t turn up any other explosive devices in the mall, which was expected to be open for business Thursday.
About 25 schools were on lockout as a precaution, meaning access is restricted to one point, according to the Post. Classes had been canceled at Columbine High School in remembrance of those killed in the shootings.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wounded several students and killed 12 and one teacher before shooting themselves.
Editors: People with information about the man on the video or the incident call the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 303-271-5616.
Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com