TYLER, Texas — A man accused of dropping more than 30 explosive devices into mailboxes and other locations across east Texas did so out of anger toward the government and was acting alone, federal authorities said Thursday.
Larry Eugene North was indicted Wednesday on charges of possessing an illegal firearm or destructive device. Authorities said they would evaluate whether to pursue more charges.
Authorities believe North is responsible for planting 36 devices between Feb. 5 and Wednesday, said Robert R. Champion, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Authorities previously said they had found at least 16 explosive devices, including five pipe bombs.
"These devices, over 30 in number, have caused fear in this community nothing short of domestic terrorism," prosecutor Brit Featherston said. "Today that fear stops."
North had been under surveillance for about a week before he was arrested Wednesday while placing an explosive in a Tyler mailbox, authorities said. A pipe bomb was found in the van he was driving and bomb-making materials were discovered in his home, they said.
No injuries or explosions resulted from the devices. At least half were found in mailboxes, while others were in assorted locations such as the front yard of a business and a cemetery, officials said. The spate of discoveries kept people on edge for weeks in east Texas, a region recently hit by a series of church arsons.
North, 52, remained jailed after a brief hearing Thursday in federal court during which a judge granted court-appointed defense attorney Ken Hawk's request for a mental competency exam. North could face 10 years in prison if convicted.
He didn't address U.S. Magistrate Judge John Love during the hearing. Hawk declined to discuss specifics of the case with reporters, and North's relatives wouldn't comment.
Champion said North's apparent anger with the government stems from a court dispute, but he didn't have any details.
"We know he did not particularly care for the U.S. government," the ATF agent said.
The indictment accuses North of possessing a pipe bomb on or about March 23 – the same day one was found in a mailbox near a woman's home in the small community of Laird Hill, about 115 miles east of Dallas.
Of the 36 devices planted, the final 10 were pipe bombs, Champion said.
"The ones yesterday we felt were ready to go at any time," he said, noting they had a fuse but no timer.
No one answered the door Thursday at North's small, brick home on the outskirts of Henderson, and there was no sign of a police investigation. The yard was well kept, flower pots adorned the house's entrance, a portable basketball hoop sat on the driveway and a bike lay in the grass.
A neighbor declined to comment.
About 30 miles away, longtime family friend Mario Rodriguez described North as a fun man who liked to joke around.
"He was a good guy, honest," said Rodriguez, 44, of Longview, who said he has been North's brother's roommate for about 28 years. "I never thought he (Larry North) would do anything like that."
Rodriguez said he last saw North when the family got together for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
"He treated me like I was part of his family," he said.
Rodriguez said there was never any talk of explosives and he didn't know Larry North to be angry about anything.
The first incendiary device was discovered Feb. 5 while authorities were investigating a monthlong spree of church arsons that ended with a pair of arrests about two weeks later, officials said.
Champion said authorities soon ruled out a connection between the church fires and the incendiary devices. Two men are jailed in Tyler on $10 million bond apiece, facing an arson charge and suspected of intentionally setting nine other church fires.
The first reports of incendiary devices in mailboxes involved bottles containing flammable liquids and wicks, authorities said. Devices resembling pipe bombs then started turning up, which raised the sense of danger felt by 27-year-old Longview resident Robert Ziemba. One pipe bomb was found in a mailbox on a busy street in Longview.
"With pipe bombs, you never know," Ziemba said. "It could be in your backyard. It could be in your neighbor's backyard. You don't know where it's going to be."
Associated Press Writer Linda Stewart Ball in Dallas contributed to this report.