Harpham bomb may yield clues to Boston bomber's identity

Author: Jeff Humphrey, KXLY4 Reporter , jeffhu@kxly.com
Published On: Apr 16 2013 06:41:46 PM PDT   Updated On: Apr 16 2013 06:51:25 PM PDT
SPOKANE, Wash. -

The bombings in Boston Monday nearly became a deadly reality in Spokane two years ago, when Kevin Harpham left an improvised bomb along the route of the Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March.

Now the FBI is looking at Harpham's unsuccessful attack for clues about the Boston bomber's identity.

The Boston bombs and the one left in Spokane at the intersection of Washington and Main two years ago January are, from initial reports, similar in how they were built and deployed.

When the FBI wanted to show a jury just how deadly Harpham's bomb would have been, they built an exact replica and set it off, the video of the replica giving them a slow motion view of what happened to spectators and athletes in Boston. The only significant difference was the Boston device was built in a pressure cooker while Harpham's device was built into an improvised mortar tube.

"[A] pressure cooker has a very tight seal to it and in that instance it would magnify the effects of the explosion once it breached that vessel," retired Spokane bomb squad commander Al Odenthal said.

Also like Harpham's bomb, the Boston devices were filled with projectiles, like nails and ball bearings, that became shrapnel when the bomb went off, wounding and maiming people in the crowd near the blast.

"The reported inclusion of ball bearings and other metal pieces as well as the pressure cooker itself, which would splinter, those are designed to injure and kill people," Odenthal said.

KXLY sources report another similarity between the devices was the use of black powder to power the bomb; black powder which you can buy at any store that sells ammunition.

While Harpham's device was discovered before it could be detonated, unfortunately the devices in Boston sat unnoticed until they exploded.

The Boston Marathon was a soft target and Odenthal, who's the director of safety and security for Bloomsday, doesn't plan to let it happen here in Spokane.

"The greatest resolve we have as a community is to be aware of the potential danger, so if it looks out of place and it looks really strange and it causes concern, as the sheriff is want to say, 'If you see something, say something,'" he said.

It was someone seeing and saying something that tripped up Harpham's attempt attack on the Unity March.

Kevin Harpham, who was subsequently arrested and later pleaded guilty to the attempted bombing, is serving a 32-year sentence at a federal prison in northern California. He is appealing both his conviction and sentence.