Pipe bomb scares bring back memories of Salida ‘smiley face’ incident

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SALIDA, Colo. — Wednesday’s attempted pipe bomb attacks bring back memories of a Colorado connection to a series of similar incidents in 2002.

At the time, a college student was accused of planting pipe bombs across the United States — attempting to form a geographical smiley face design of incidents across the map. One of the targets in that formation was Salida, Colorado.

“There was this incident of a pipe bomb in a mailbox,” Salida police Lt. Rob Martellaro said.

Martellaro, a 26-year veteran of the Salida police force, remembers the day clearly.

“At some point they had called everyone to ... come in and help,” he said.

Martellaro was sent to the neighborhood with street-side mailboxes to help with evacuations and street closures. A retired police officer named Walt Iiams was the smiley face bomber’s target. Luckily, though, no one was injured.

“I don’t think it was even a thought at that point that it was the Midwest bomber or the happy face bomber or whatever, but it was a concern because this guy finds this device in his mailbox," Martellaro said.

As area schools were about to let out for the day, local authorities moved the bomb to a shooting range outside of town before the bomb squad arrived.

“They were pretty lucky, and I think they felt that way — but I think they were kind of looking at the safety of the people as well,” Martellaro explained.

Eventually, the bomb squad and FBI detonated the Salida pipe bomb. The suspect, Luke Helder, has been incarcerated at a federal medical center in Minnesota where he is being treated for schizophrenia.

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