For a Boston police officer, Friday’s bombing of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s West Coast headquarters was a graphic reminder of how lucky he is to be alive.
That was because Randolph LaMattina was seriously injured himself by a bomb left outside the group’s New England headquarters just two months ago.
“It was a shame that somebody had to be killed and so many people had to be injured,” said LaMattina, a bomb specialist for the Boston Police Department. “I thought back to how lucky I was.”
LaMattina, 40, suffered face and arm burns, hearing loss, severe injuries to both hands, and cuts and scrapes to his head, when a nine-inch-long pipe bomb exploded in his hands at a Boston dump.
Hospitalized Five Weeks
“I’ve lost the majority of my hearing and use of my left hand permanently,” LaMattina said in a telephone interview Saturday from his home southwest of Boston.
He was hospitalized at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston for five weeks after the explosion and still faces additional reconstructive surgery and a year of physical therapy to regain use of his right hand.
LaMattina has yet to discuss the Santa Ana bombing with investigators, he said, but does hold out hope that the tragedy will lead to those responsible for the bomb that ended his 19-year police career.
“I think everybody would have that gut feeling, but it is too early to say, really. The incidents may not be related. . . . Hopefully, because of this bombing, it will be solved to a successful conclusion.”
Initial news reports suggest that the bomb that killed Alex M. Odeh, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, at his Santa Ana office was, at least in some ways, dissimilar to the pipe bomb found outside the group’s Boston office in August.
Investigators at the scene of the Santa Ana blast believed the bomb was rigged to go off when Odeh opened the door to the group’s offices, on the second floor of a three-story stucco building on East 17th Street.
The bomb found in Boston on Aug. 16 was fitted with an egg timer to trigger detonation, LaMattina said.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is examining remnants of the bomb at its laboratory in Washington, LaMattina said. That agency and the FBI have joined local authorities investigating both the bombings.
Search for Fragments
FBI agents sifted through the rubble at the Santa Ana building Saturday, continuing to search for minute fragments of the bomb that killed Odeh and injured seven others.
“I’m sure they will compare one (bomb) to the other,” LaMattina said.
A Boston police spokeswoman said the department has not yet received any information about the Santa Ana bombing. “To the best of my knowledge, we have not had any direct contact with any California agencies,” said Detective Mary Evans.
Boston police are not even sure the bomb there was aimed at the Arab-American group, Evans said. “We have nothing evidential that points us to a target or a suspect, at this point, . . . (and) we have no evidence of a motive.”
Anonymous callers to a Boston newspaper said the Jewish Defense League was responsible for the bombing, but a JDL spokesman later denied that the organization was involved. No one has claimed responsibility for the second explosion.
Listed as Terrorist Act
“We don’t have a lot on this one,” Evans said of the Boston bombing. “We really don’t . . . with the exception of the device itself.”
FBI officials in Boston would not discuss the case. “As far as I know it’s an ongoing investigation,” said Ellen Kearns, a bureau spokeswoman. " . . . We really can’t talk about it.”
An FBI spokesman in Washington, however, said the incident has been listed by the bureau as one of four “terrorist acts” in the United States this year.
The pipe bomb was left in the outer doorway of a two-story building that housed the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s New England offices, as well as several businesses, in the West Roxbury section of Boston, LaMattina said.
“This was a small office building,” he said. "(The bomb) wasn’t actually attached to their own door. It was at the front of the office building.”
Took Bomb to Dump
Manuel Silva, part-owner of a courier service based in the Boston building, found the bomb when he arrived for work about 6:10 a.m., Evans said.
Silva told police he had been the last person to leave the building the previous night and was the first to arrive that morning, Evans said.
LaMattina, a five-year veteran of Boston’s bomb disposal unit, moved the nine-inch-long, three-inch-diameter pipe bomb to the Boston Police Department’s “bomb pod,” a metal vehicle, in which it was taken to a nearby public dump.
Police opted to take the bomb to the dump, rather than their usual bomb disposal site, so they could avoid carrying it in morning rush-hour traffic, LaMattina said.
At the dump, about two hours after the bomb’s discovery, LaMattina was “removing it to see if we could render it safe. It exploded as I was removing it from the bomb pod.”
“I’m still in therapy three days a week, for the next eight months to a year,” he said. LaMattina is seeking a disability retirement from the police force and has not yet made plans for a second career.
“I’m just trying to get back as close to what I was as possible.”