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Inquiry into Colorado explosion outside NAACP is 'high priority,' officials say

Explosion outside Colorado NAACP office could be a hate crime, officials say

The investigation into an improvised explosive detonated outside the Colorado Springs, Colo., NAACP office, is a high priority, El Paso County officials said Thursday.

The investigation, being conducted as a joint effort with local and federal law enforcement resources, has been ongoing since the blast. The device was detonated against the exterior wall of the NAACP building on South El Paso Street on Tuesday morning.

"Regardless of if this act is determined to be a biased motivated crime, the law enforcement community in El Paso County does not condone this or any act of violence," the statement said.

No one was injured, said Amy Sanders, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Denver. A gasoline can had been placed near the device but did not ignite during the explosion, Sanders said.

On Wednesday, Sanders said she could not comment on the contents of the device, but said the FBI was exploring a wide range of motives, including the possibility that the NAACP building was not the target of the attack.

"It has also not yet been determined if the motive was a hate crime, domestic terrorism, a personal act of violence against a specific individual, or other motive as there are numerous individuals and entities tied to the building in the vicinity of the explosion," Sanders said in an email to The Times.

The sidewalk and the NAACP headquarters building, which also houses a barbershop, suffered minor damage, she said.

Some local leaders condemned what they believe is a possible hate crime and act of domestic terrorism.

“This certainly raises questions of a potential hate crime,” said Sondra Young, president of the Denver chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. “But at this point we’re still gathering information. It’s a very sad situation, but we’re happy our people in Colorado Springs are safe.”

Young added that her branch “stands tall with the community of Colorado Springs in rejecting an attempt to create fear, intimidation and racial divisiveness. Although this is an active investigation, one thing is clear: This is an act of domestic terrorism.”

The incident erupted on social media with the Twitter hashtag #NAACPbombing trending nationwide much of Wednesday.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), an influential leader of the civil rights movement, tweeted he was “deeply troubled by the bombing in Colorado. It reminds me of another period. These stories cannot be swept under the rug."

A man described as being about 40 is a person of interest in the investigation. He may be driving a 2000 or older dirty white pickup truck with paneling, a dark-colored bed liner, an open tailgate and a missing or covered license plate.

Phone calls to the Colorado Springs NAACP office were not immediately returned Wednesday.

The Colorado Springs chapter, housed in a single-story building, is among the largest in Colorado. In past weeks the organization has taken part in local protests related to the deaths of unarmed black men last year in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.

Gene Southerland, the owner of Mr. G’s barbershop, said he rushed outside Tuesday morning after hearing the explosion. He reopened on Wednesday and said police had left the scene.

“I’m not sure what will come of it,” he said. “But hopefully someone will have answers.”

Times staff writer Brittny Mejia contributed to this report.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT and @kurtisalee for breaking news

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

Jan. 8, 9:36 a.m.: This story has been updated with comments from El Paso County officials.

Jan. 7, 1:48 p.m.: This story has been updated with additional comments. 

Jan. 7, 11:59 a.m.: This story has been updated with additional comments from local NAACP leaders.

Jan. 7, 11:03 a.m.: This story has been updated with additional comments from the FBI

Jan. 7, 10:25 a.m.: This story has been updated with comments from local NAACP officials and details about the investigation.

3:48 p.m.: This story has been udpated with details of the explosive device placed outside the NAACP building.

This story was originally published at 1:20 p.m.

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