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Bombing attempts leave locals uneasy

A black garbage bag on an overpass or bridge wouldn’t normally draw any attention from passersby, but this is not a normal time for some Sierra foothill communities.

With the discoveries in recent weeks of several pipe bombs and other explosive devices in Placer and Amador counties, anything on the sidewalk is suspect.

So when a suspicious black bag was found on Grass Valley’s McKnight Way overpass Saturday, police were called. The bag contained old doughnuts. And when another harmless bag was found on the Bear River Bridge at the Nevada-Placer county line Thursday, it was also suspected of being a bomb.



People in Nevada County are starting to take notice of what is happening to the south, where some residents of nearby Auburn are beginning to feel like potential targets of domestic terrorism.

“Everybody is a little nervous,” property management agent Michele Moenning said. “I find a paper bag, I’m not going to deal with it. I will call it in to police.”




Bombs in the foothills

On Dec. 27, three explosive devices were found at a housing development in Lincoln. Those bombs, and all of the subsequent ones, are believed to have been planted by the eco-terrorist group Earth Liberation Front.

On Jan. 12, Auburn was targeted for the first time, when five more bombs were found in an office building. After a short lull, on Feb. 7 seven firebombs exploded in a Sutter Creek apartment complex in Amador County. Four unoccupied apartments were destroyed. Graffiti at the site, as well as letters written to several newspapers, claimed the bombs were the work of the ELF. The letters promised more destruction every few weeks.

FBI officers arrested a 21-year-old Newcastle man on Feb. 9 in connection to the Jan. 12 attempted firebombing, but the following week, more bombs were found in Auburn. On Feb. 13, a homemade explosive was located outside the Placer County Courthouse. Two days later, a pipe bomb was found at a Department of Motor Vehicles office in Auburn.

“It will only be a matter of time until the post office is targeted,” Auburn postal carrier Randall Alesci told The Union. “As a postal employee, I am more nervous.”

What locals think

Auburn’s historic downtown is not too different from that of Grass Valley or Nevada City. Old brick buildings line several clustered streets. Most are shops, restaurants or bars. There are plenty of walking paths and many potential places to hide a pipe bomb.

“There’s more awareness to things,” Auburn Police Sgt. Victor Pecoraro said. “Are we more aware of our surroundings as well? Sure we are. We are not paranoid, but cautious.”

Jim Ruffalo, a disc jockey at KAHI 950 AM, also located in downtown Auburn, said some residents are starting to joke that that the town’s motto should be changed from “Endurance Capital” to explosion capital.

“I don’t want to say that people are on edge – they are not,” Ruffalo said. “But they are nervous.

“The sheriff just got a robot for these things,” he said. “Now, that thing is overworked.”

Some people, such as James Van Eaton and Fred Bernstein, owners of Winston Smith Books, are not too concerned about the possibility of being targeted by eco-terrorists.

“It’s disturbing reading about it in the paper, but that’s about it,” Bernstein said.

Auburn resident Johanna Schlichting said she believes the scare tactics are nothing more than that.

“I trust our local law enforcement will take care of it,” she said.

Still, others such as longtime Auburn resident Ed Abt, are concerned.

“You don’t expect crime in this town except for stolen cars,” Abt said. “It’s kind of scary.”


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