The 44-year-old man charged in an explosion outside an NAACP office building in Colorado Springs, Colo., told police he was trying to attack an accountant who allegedly stole tax records from him, not the civil rights group, according to a criminal complaint.
Thaddeus Murphy was arrested late Thursday and charged with arson and weapons offenses in connection with the Jan. 5 explosion outside the headquarters of the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP, according to a statement issued by the U.S. attorney's office in Denver.
During interviews with federal investigators, Murphy admitted to the attack, but claimed he was trying to threaten an accountant who was withholding years of tax records, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday. Murphy did not appear to make any mention of animosity toward the NAACP in the interviews, though the complaint does not contain a complete transcript of his conversation with investigators.
On the morning of Jan. 5, Murphy is believed to have placed a pipe bomb near a container of gasoline before igniting the items outside a building that houses the NAACP's Colorado Springs chapter and a barbershop.
The contents of the container did not ignite properly, the FBI has previously said. No one was injured and the building did not sustain significant damage.
Murphy is expected to appear in federal court at 2 p.m. Friday.
According to the complaint, Murphy told investigators that he built the pipe bomb using a shotgun shell, fireworks and other home materials that he used as a carpenter. He then placed the pipe bomb, a two-gallon can of gasoline and a road flare beside the building on South El Paso Street where he believed the tax offices were located. He told police that the “rationale for the pipe bomb was rage.”
Murphy, who spent three years in a Colorado state prison for a 2007 theft conviction, told investigators he was having financial troubles and believed the accountant he was targeting had purposely destroyed his tax records.
However, Henry Allen, the president of the NAACP’s Colorado Springs chapter, seemed highly skeptical of Murphy’s motives during an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Friday.
Allen said there hasn’t been a tax office connected to the building on South El Paso Street in nearly 20 years.
“Criminals are people that will say anything to lessen the sentence,” said Allen, an army veteran and retired El Paso County Sheriff’s deputy in Colorado. “It’s up to the courts on how they interpret things. It’s up to the prosecutor on the federal level, if they want to take this guy as gospel.”
Cornell William Brooks, the national president and CEO of the NAACP, issued a statement Friday thanking law enforcement and asking for "a continued investigation" into Murphy's motives.
During a search of Murphy's home on Thursday, police recovered four rifles, two shotguns and a revolver, according to the complaint. As a convicted felon, it is illegal for him to possess firearms.
Although it was never clear that the NAACP was the target of the attack, the explosion upset black leaders, several of whom speculated that the attack might have been a hate crime.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), an influential leader of the civil rights movement, called the attack "deeply troubling" and the Twitter hashtag #NAACPbombing trended nationwide for days after the incident.
Allen said there were at least a half-dozen people in the NAACP offices and the adjacent barbershop on the day of the attack. Simply put, Allen said, people could have been hurt, so the target of Murphy’s pipe bomb should be irrelevant to prosecutors.
“What happened was, you placed an explosive device in an attempt to do harm. Inside of that building was human beings,” Allen said. “I don't care what your purpose was, you hated somebody.”
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