Unabomber News History

Copyright 1993 The Washington Post

The Washington Post

June 25, 1993, Friday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 1065 words

HEADLINE: 2nd Scientist Hurt in Blast Linked to Serial Bomber

BYLINE: Andrew Brownstein, Pierre Thomas, Washington Post Staff Writers


A mail bomb exploded yesterday in the hands of a world-renowned Yale computer scientist in what federal officials said was the second blast this week that could be linked to a serial bomber in operation since 1978.

The choice of targets in the Yale case and the Tuesday bombing of a geneticist at the University of California at San Francisco bears the hallmark of the elusive "UNABOM," who targeted employees of the computer industry and university researchers for more than a decade before stopping the bombings in 1987, officials said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) has added the Tuesday bombing in California that injured Charles Epstein to its UNABOM incident list, and FBI agents in New Haven, Conn., said there was an "unavoidable question of connection" to yesterday morning's bombing of David Gelernter at Yale University.

Named for a penchant for targeting academics, UNABOM is believed to be responsible for 12 bombings from 1978 to 1987 in seven states that killed one person and injured 21. Despite the creation of a federal-state UNABOM Task Force, which is still active, the bomber's whereabouts and motives remain a mystery, officials said. What is known is the similarity of the victims, all of whom were either university scientists or employees in the computer and airline industries.

Gelernter, who created a language allowing desktop computers to achieve the power of supercomputers, triggered the explosion when he opened a package around 8:15 a.m. at the school's computer center. As the building's sprinkler system doused a small blaze, Gelernter, 38, raced down five flights of stairs and across the street to the student infirmary, leaving a trail of blood and fending off bystanders with cries of "Leave me alone!" He was listed in stable condition following surgery to repair severe wounds to his abdomen, chest, face and hands.

Across the country two days earlier, Epstein opened a package in the kitchen of his home in Tiburon, Calif., that had arrived in mail brought in by his daughter Joanna, according to Rick Smith, spokesman for the FBI's San Francisco bureau. The explosion blew off several of Epstein's fingers, broke his arm and caused several abdominal injuries. Epstein, 59, known for his work locating a gene that may contribute to Down's syndrome, was listed in fair condition following surgery.

UNABOM has never shied from targeting well-known people. One early victim was Percy Wood, the president of United Airlines who was targeted in June 1980, according to the ATF. Among the 14 listed UNABOM incidents, at least six bombs were mailed and eight were put in place by the suspect. Federal officials said the San Francisco package carried UNABOM's signature: a pipe bomb nestled in a small package, its explosion triggered by touch.

FBI Director William S. Sessions warned university officials yesterday "to be alert to all packages and mail received" at their offices and homes. In addition to this week's suspected UNABOM incidents, UNABOM explosive devices have been found in the past at Northwestern University, Vanderbilt University and the University of Michigan.

Also targeted were Boeing Aircraft Co., Rentech Computer Rental and United Airlines. One mail bomb detonated on American Airlines Flight 444 on Nov. 15, 1979, bound for Washington, D.C., from Chicago. Twelve people suffered smoke inhalation when the bomb exploded during the flight.

The UNABOM suspect disappeared and apparently discontinued his bombings following a Feb. 20, 1987, blast in Salt Lake City in which a witness was able to offer a general description of a man who left a package that exploded in a parking lot, injuring an employee of CAAMS Inc., a computer sales and service company. The white male was described as slender, 5-foot-10 to 6 feet tall and 25 to 30 years old with reddish-blond hair.

ATF officials believe the Salt Lake City sighting may have forced him underground. They said they had little knowledge of UNABOM's whereabouts or activities since 1987 and did not know why he would choose to strike again now.

FBI spokesman Smith said in San Francisco that the "manner of construction and the [Epstein] bomb's unique signature appears to be related forensically to UNABOM. We are looking at UNABOM more than anyone else." A return address on the San Francisco package was that of another university official who told investigators he had not mailed it, a federal official said.

At a news conference in San Francisco, Sessions said the FBI is pursuing links between the two cases and UNABOM. "The FBI will go back and look at all the bombings of a similar character. It's the logical thing to be done, and it will be done," he said.

Eugene Sorets, a postdoctoral student in Yale's computer science department, was in his second-floor office yesterday morning when he heard a sound like "someone dropped a heavy metal object."

"Soon I heard groaning," said Sorets, "and I looked out my window and saw Gelernter running across the street. After the fire alarm went off, I saw blood on the stairs and his bloody shirt lying on the stairway."

Federal, state and local law enforcement officials said yesterday afternoon that they had not yet found enough evidence to link the Yale bomb to the one in San Francisco. Still, one FBI official said the suspicion was "unavoidable."

"A mail bomb in the same 48 hours -- both to academics, both scientific researchers?" asked John Sennett, spokesman for the New Haven branch of the FBI. "The question of a possible link is most certainly there."

Following radio reports of yesterday's bombing, Gelernter's brother Joel, a Yale geneticist, was told "You are next" by a caller to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, according to federal officials.

Sheryll Gelernter, a relative of David Gelernter, also is a postdoctoral fellow in genetic epidemiology. And a colleague of David Gelernter, Vladimir Rokhlin, said he had created computer programs currently used by the Human Genome Project, the multimillion-dollar effort to map the genes of the human body.

"He is a very benign, blandish fellow," Rokhlin said. "Everyone is worried and irritated. I know I certainly am not going to open packages in the future without being really cautious."

Special correspondents Frank Cope in New Haven and Stephen Levine in San Francisco contributed to this report.