RENO, Nev. (AP) -- Friends can't believe it and even local law enforcement officials admit the college student from Minnesota accused in a string of pipe bombings doesn't strike them as the typical terrorist.
"He looks like the average college kid from the Midwest," Washoe County Sheriff Dennis Balaam said of Lucas John Helder, 21, who is accused of placing homemade bombs in mailboxes in five states.
"He's a quiet, polite, well-behaved, well-mannered kind of kid. When I talked with him, he shook my hand and called me sir," the sheriff told The Associated Press in Reno.
Authorities were left to reconcile that portrait with the young man they said confessed to making 24 pipe bombs out of tape, paper clips and Christmas tree bulbs. Six people were injured from the bombs, which were packed with smokeless gunpowder and BBs or nails.
The FBI said Helder placed 18 of the devices in mailboxes in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado and Texas, along with anti-government notes. Helder had six other bombs with him when he was arrested Tuesday, authorities said.
"He indicated to FBI agents he knew people would be injured if these pipe bombs were detonated," Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Denney said Wednesday.
Helder faces federal charges in four states. At a brief hearing in Reno on Wednesday, he was ordered held without bail for transfer to Iowa. He could be sent to prison for life if convicted.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Robert McQuaid Jr. denied a request to release Helder to the custody of his parents. "It's apparent to me that he suffers from some apparent mental health problems," McQuaid said.
Asked by the judge if he understood that he does not have to make any statement, Helder replied, "most definitely." Asked if he understood that any statements he made can be used against him, he replied "for sure."
Helder's deputy public defender, Vito de la Cruz, said Helder was willing to face the charges. "He's anxious to have a jury trial," he said.
The FBI issued an alert for Helder after his father, Cameron, called police late Monday night about letters from his son that included references to death, anti-government comments and the phrase "Mailboxes are exploding." The same phrase was in the notes found with the bombs.
The bombs rattled the heartland and brought back memories of last fall's anthrax-by-mail attacks as well as the case of the Unabomber, who was turned in by his own brother. The bombings prompted the Postal Service to suspend service in some areas and urge people to leave their mailboxes open so letter carriers could peer inside.
Helder was described Wednesday as bright, polite and not given to ranting about politics. In high school, he played football and golf and was in the choir. Until this week, his criminal record showed only a marijuana possession charge last October.
James Divine, his roommate at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wis., was quoted as telling authorities that Helder had mentioned some "anti-government rhetoric here and there" but that he felt it was harmless.
The FBI said Helder admitted making the first of his eight bombs in his Menomonie apartment after buying some of the raw materials in mid-April. He made 16 more bombs at a motel near Omaha, Neb., the FBI said.
During his odyssey, Helder was stopped by police and released three times for traffic violations. On Friday, Helder was pulled over for speeding in St. Edward, Neb., 12 miles from where a pipe bomb was found later.
His capture ended a virtually nonstop driving stint during which he did little to conceal his identity. He checked into a Nebraska motel under his own name and used his credit card at a gas station.
His parents arrived at Reno-Tahoe International Airport early Thursday from their home in Pine Island, Minn. They appeared grim and exhausted as they were whisked away by FBI agents. Reporters were kept well away and unable to ask questions.
"It's finally set in that it was unfortunately their son," said the Rev. Dennis Kampa, the Helders' longtime priest.
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