Letters, possible bombs found in U. City

BY KEREN DOUEK, ASSISTANT EDITOR

So far, questions seem to outnumber answers as University City officials look into threatening letters and what appear to be home-made explosives that have turned up around town.

The letters were found on four cars the week of June 6, while the possible explosives — what Charles Adams, chief of the University City Police Department, described as “glass bottles with charred pieces of tinfoil, containing liquid,” — were found in the yards of several homes on June 11.

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According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, one family reported hearing explosions the night before finding the materials.

One of the individuals who found a bottle in his yard also found a note on his car, which Adams said could be “either a bad coincidence or a definite connection,” and that it is still premature to say what exactly the bottles were, whether they were connected with the letters, and what the intent was with both the letters and the glass bottles.

“We are processing (the letters) for evidence to see if we can glean anything that can give us direction in the investigations,” Adams said. “We don’t know if it is a group or one person, a prank or something to terrorize or actually send some foreboding message to the residents there, if this is a one-time event … We don’t know if we have somebody sitting back laughing over this, or someone with other sinister motives.”

Three of the cars that had letters on them belonged to Jewish residents of University City.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the fourth letter was found on a Catholic woman’s car on the morning of June 8, and she said there was a swastika written at the bottom of the letter.

According to Adams, all four letters appeared to be photocopied versions of the same letter and did not contain a swastika.

The letter read: “WE ARE the People your mother warned you about. Just know we watch you 24/7… We know where we work, live!!! WE KNOW your EVERY MOVE!!!”

The letters were signed “The People” and at the bottom were the numbers “666.”

Adams said the numbers might be a reference to the date, as most of the letters were found on the morning of June 7, 2006, and that he is not aware of any groups that are associated with these numbers. He also said the signature does not at this point reveal anything, as he is not aware of any organization that goes by that title, nor does he know whether any such organization exists.

Karen Aroesty of the Anti-Defamation League said it is too early to get alarmed and classify the occurrences as hate crimes.

“I think it is being blown way out of proportion now because the analysis has not come back from the labwork,” Aroesty said. “The events that occurred do not necessarily indicate any attack on the Jewish community per say, other than the location of the letters, although anyone who knows U-City would be aware that in certain neighborhoods most of the people who live in those parts of the neighborhood are Jewish.”

Aroesty said she does not know whether the glass bottles found were related to the letters and therefore cannot say whether it indicates an escalation.

“One would think if somebody wanted to show a connection there would be some indication they were connected,” she said.

Aroesty suggested using caution before jumping to any conclusion that this was either specifically directed at the Jewish community or that it was bias or hate in general.

“That being said, it is always a good opportunity for people to pay attention to this sort of thing and maybe consider opportunities to get together and talk about how a community reacts when hate crime or bias incidents do affect that community,” she said.

Robert Cohn, chairman of the St. Louis County Human Rights/Relations Commission — a seven-member commission appointed by county executives with the approval of the St. Louis County Council — and also editor-in-chief emeritus of the Jewish Light, said the commission takes these matters very seriously, “even if they turn out to be pranks.”

“We are in the process of scheduling a special meeting on these incidents and will work aggressively with ADL and with law enforcement to help bring a stop to such hateful practices in our community,” he said.

Rabbi Jeffrey Bienenfeld of Young Israel said that while his congregants are somewhat concerned, they do feel the University City police have taken the incidents seriously and increased their patrol around the area. Bienenfeld said he had no first-hand knowledge of the incidents and had only learned of them recently.

Adams said the department will continue to canvas the neighborhood and encourage anybody with information that might help the investigation to contact the department.

“You do not want to find these kinds of things, and you don’t know the intentions of the author of these documents. I don’t think anybody is running for cover, I think everybody should be concerned anytime something like this happens.”

Keren Douek is an assistant editor and can be reached at [email protected]