'Pipe bombs' proved benign

PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Two "suspicious looking devices," said to resemble pipe bombs, found near the BIA building here May 6, proved to be benign but not before they triggered a major recovery effort.

Oglala Sioux Tribal police were immediately notified and cordoned off a one-block area around the scene. A bomb squad from nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base (EAFB) arrived two hours later to remove the materials.

Acting with extreme caution, EAFB personnel, using a mechanism with a piston and an explosive device, knocked off the ends of the suspected bombs in two separate explosions about 45 minutes apart. The bomb squad's efforts took more than five hours, witnesses said. The suspect materials were placed in plastic bags and are in the custody of the FBI for further testing.

BIA Superintendent Bob Ecoffey said criminal investigators, working with tribal police, have solid information on the origin of the objects and they have questioned individuals involved. Ecoffey said that while he could not reveal the names of the individuals, contrary to previous claims, there is a benign explanation for the objects.

BIA Criminal Investigator Mitch Pourier said the objects were found in a pickup belonging to someone working in the area. The individuals who discovered the suspicious devices attempted to dispose of them at the dumpster where they were found. Pourier said that other individuals were being sought for questioning.

Special Agent Mark Vukelich, from the FBI's Rapid City office, said the objects were not explosive devices. Vukelich said they were 6-inch lengths of metal pipe with metal caps placed over both ends. "We can say, unequivocally, that these were not bombs because they did not meet the standard criteria. They contained no explosive material and they did not have fuses or any other means by which they could be made to detonate."

The FBI agent declined to comment on whether or not the bag and metal objects were intended as a threat, saying he would not speculate. Vukelich did add, however, that having the bomb squad on the scene was justified. "In this case, what presented was definitely a cause for concern."

Perry Mesteth, an employee of the Oglala Sioux Tribe's Badlands Bombing Range Project, discovered the two metal devices near a dumpster on the northwest end of the BIA parking lot about 3 p.m. "I was walking near the dumpsters and I noticed some suspicious looking objects sitting there. I saw what they were. The first thing I did was notify the police department. Then I showed them where they were."

Mesteth said the devices lay on the ground near the dumpster with one of the metal cylinders still in what looked to be a homemade canvas pouch. The two objects were wrapped tightly in silver duct tape and resembled two small dumb bells. Mesteth said there were little pellets resembling "4-10 gauge shottie" around the objects.

BIA Criminal Investigator Mitch Pourier was concerned by early reports in the media that said the objects were found near the Red Cloud Building, scene of a four-month occupation by a group calling itself the Grassroots Oyate.

"The proximity was actually closer to the BIA building," Pourier said. "The reports made it sound like it was right behind the Red Cloud Building. That just heightens the tension of the situation out here and it is not accurate.

"We're covering all the angles on it and at this point our investigation is ongoing."