HPD: Would-Be Bomber Says He Was Forced

Brent Finnegan -- July 13th, 2010

Harrisonburg police announced Tuesday morning that the man who walked into Wachovia bank on South Main Street Monday morning with what was believed to have been an explosive device taped to his back has told investigators that he was forced to enter the bank and withdraw his money.

Through the investigation, it was discovered that several other individuals may be involved.

The male involved in the bomb threat, reported that he was forced from a location on Rex Road, by two unknown black males, to withdraw money from his bank account. Both males were allegedly carrying a handgun when they made contact with the male.

This continues to be an ongoing investigation and investigators are following-up on all possible leads. Additional information will be released as the investigation continues.

In other words: the man in police custody is saying that the “bomb” was a threat to him, not directly to the bank employees. The implication is that if he didn’t do as he was told and withdraw his cash, the two men with guns were going to detonate the would-be explosive taped to his back.

Police have not identified the would-be bomber, but the Daily News-Record and WHSV report that police searched a house at 85 Rex Road in conjunction with the bomb threat investigation. According to those reports, neighbors identified the owner of the house as Dr. Michael E. Smith, a radiologist at RMH.

The item duct-taped to the man’s back was later determined by a bomb squad to be a non-explosive device.

No charges have yet been filed in connection with this incident. Investigators have since released the man with the fake bomb.

44 Responses to “HPD: Would-Be Bomber Says He Was Forced”

  1. seth says:

    strange the same individual would have something of this nature happen twice in the same several year period.

  2. I assume you’re referring to this from the DNR 12/23/06

    “. . . Thursday’s incident occurred at 5:45 p.m. outside a home in the 100 block of Rex Road, according to a statement released Friday by Harrisonburg police.

    The victim was in his driveway when a masked man, who was armed with a handgun, confronted him and demanded money.

    “The suspect then ordered the victim to drive him to a nearby bank and withdraw cash from his ATM,” the police statement said.

    After taking an undisclosed amount of cash, the robber fled on foot, the statement says. The victim wasn’t injured . . .”

  3. Brooke says:

    I am having a little bit of a hard time believing that this almost exact type of thing happened to the same man, at the same bank, within just a few years.

    I wonder if it’s at all possible this was a ploy to be able to take out a bunch of money from an account, claim to have been “robbed” and then get the bank to refund the withdrawal (like they would if they were fraudulent charges on a debit card).

  4. seth says:

    slow down turbo…..

    i’d say the chances of something like this happening are long enough that it would be highly unlikely for it to happen again and be totally unrelated, full stop.

    while you may think an online newsforum is a substantial enough departure from traditional media so as to be an aproppriate environment in which to foment a potentially libelous rumor mill, you’re doing a disservice to this site and likely exposing yourself to liability that you may not even have considered.

  5. Brooke says:

    I’m not “fomenting” anything, seth. I said, “I wonder if it’s possible.” Not, “This is what happened” or even “I think this is what happened.”

    It’d be pretty difficult to prove I “libeled” anything by asking a question about what is possible, so I’m really not worried.

    • Brooke says:

      But Brent can make the call, if he feels I’ve somehow opened the site up to legal issues.

    • seth says:

      to me, the point is that your speculation isn’t insightful or productive (and that it’s actually likely to fan the flames of whatever rumors are flying around). please help this site to be the best news source it can be. if you have theories about what might have happened, it would be more aproppriate to make a call to local law enforcement and allow this to be a place for the discussion and conveyance of facts.

      • Brooke says:

        Yes, seth, I’m sure the police would like for me to call in my pondering about what could possibly have been involved.

        I’ve seen plenty of conjecture and opinion on this site. I think you’re being a bit overboard in your criticism, and I’ll leave it at that. Again, Brent is more than welcome to edit or even delete my posts if he feels the need to do so, and I’ll understand.

        • seth says:

          yeah, i don’t think the police would be anymore interested in rumors and speculation than legitimate news outlets should be.

          i don’t mean to be overly harsh on you, i just know that if something like this were to happen to me (of course i’m presuming innocence, that’s kind of an important thing here (in this country, i mean)), i really wouldn’t appreciate people who had no idea what was going on entertaining themselves by supposing on whether i planned what my traumatic kidnapping or not.

          i’ve seen you talk about your faith on here before. remember your golden rule.

          • Bazrik says:

            I guess I see where you’re coming from, Seth – but this site has always been structured as a forum. The comments are part of the stories, part of the reason people come to this site. Open discourse.

            I’ve read certain comments in the past that start “I’ve heard that…” and then proceed with unconfirmed, pretty wild rumors. I can see objecting to something like that, totally. But I don’t think that’s what Brooke was doing here. You might be overreacting.

          • Brooke says:

            Wow, I think that was a little below the belt, seth. The comments in this site have never…NEVER been “facts only.” I didn’t say I thought that was what the guy did. I just wondered. I get that you don’t approve. Now drop it.

  6. Delataire says:

    It seems that it would be easy enough to tell if the ducted taped item was self taped or not.

    • Emmy says:

      That’s what I was thinking. From the pictures it looks like it would have been hard to do by yourself, but having someone do it to you doesn’t mean you aren’t in on it. For his sake, I hope he’s totally innocent, but at the same time, it’s scary to think about something like this happening around here.

  7. MB Green says:

    Why is everyone jumping on Brooke? She isn’t the only one who said it seems improbable that this would happen to the same person twice – especially in such a short amount of time.

    • Emmy says:

      It’s not everyone…just Seth, who has a tendency to do that. Funny thing is, he did it himself with the first comment.

      • seth says:

        i think you maybe missed the point. i’m not sure why the distinction between saying that it would be highly unlikely that these incidents would be unrelated and openly suggesting that the victim is the guilty party is unclear.

        and brooke, if you really believe that my suggestion that you apply what i understand to be one of the most basic tenets of the christian belief system to your everyday life is hitting below the belt, i dont’ even know what to tell you.

        • Brooke says:

          I didn’t openly suggest the victim was a guilty party. We’ve all been through the theories that these incidents really happened the way he said they did, and he’s just the unluckiest guy in the world. Heck, I’ve put forth that theory to friends, explaining that if someone had your family hostage and strapped something they claimed was a bomb to your back, and said they’d detonate it if you didn’t do as they say, you’d do what they said.

          I NEVER said the guy was guilty.

          At the same time, yes, I am having trouble believing that one man could have this happen twice, in 4 years. I’m skeptical. I’m not saying he’s guilty. I’m saying my opinion is something is fishy here.

          If he’s innocent, we all know why he would have done what he did – to protect family and his own life. However, if there is something else going on, I was asking myself why someone might withdraw their own money, instead of simply demanding cash. That was the possibility I wondered about.

          Look we’re ALL wondering what the heck happened here, and perusing the comments sections of various news sources, what I wondered is far, far from declaring the man guilty, or even approaching “libel” or “slander.”

          As far as the “golden rule” comment. If you were a fellow believer, and who respectfully told me you thought I might be in error, then that would be one thing. But you’re not, and you didn’t, and your throwing my faith in my face in a passive-aggressive manner was over the line.

          But to humor you, yes, if I walked into a bank with a fake bomb strapped to my chest, and told people that it was the 2nd time in 4 years that black men had forced me at gunpoint to rob myself at the same bank, I would expect there to be some questions and speculation among the public. Again, I didn’t say the man was guilty. I said I had questions.

          Now, with all that being said, kindly leave me the heck alone, Seth. I don’t intend on engaging you further.

          • Lowell Fulk says:

            I believe you ought to leave her alone Seth.

          • seth says:

            “…it was the 2nd time in 4 years that black men had forced me at gunpoint.”

            why does it always have to be about color?


          • Emmy says:

            You are certainly not alone in questioning what happened here. Everyone is questioning it because it’s scary and we all want to know what happened. For myself I want to believe that he had nothing to do with this because he’s a respected doctor who could have treated me or my children at some point. At the same time, I want to believe he’s making it all up because I don’t want to believe something like this could happen in Harrisonburg. Nothing Brooke said was out of line or out of the realm of what everyone around here is thinking or wondering.

    • Lowell Fulk says:

      I like reading Brooke’s thoughts on different topics, and I have no memory of her ever being disrespectful or libelous.

      • Scott Rogers says:

        I am enjoying how these comments are appearing in my RSS reader. This one was entitled:

        “Comment on HPD: Would-Be Bomber Says He Was Forced by Lowell Fulk”


        And yes, I realize that this comment will now appear in my RSS reader as an allegation that I forced the would-be bomber.


  8. republitarian says:

    This site is beginning to degenerate into that other local blog…..

  9. David Miller says:

    Either way, we should all hope that we are never accused of a crime in this guilty until proven innocent town.

  10. And we should all hope that we never walk into a bank with a phoney bomb duct taped to our back, however it got there.

  11. cook says:

    Warning: pure speculation to follow with no basis in any knowledge of the facts of the case other than that which has appeared in the media. Please read no further and skip to the next comment if you do not want to read such tripe. You have been advised.

    The simplest explanation that could account for all the facts known at this time and could also take into consideration the widely held suspicion that the statements made to the police strain credulity is that the gentleman in the bank had some sort of mental breakdown, that he sincerely believed to see and hear everything he reported, that at the end of the day he actually committed no crime.

    • Brooke says:

      That’s the theory that makes the most sense to me, Aaron. Of course we’ll have to see what the investigation turns up, and what facts come to light if there’s ever any kind of trial.

      Of course, his lawyer doesn’t appear to be exploring that angle at all. They seem to be solidly sticking to the story that this happened, and that are saying this is completely unrelated to the previous robbery (now how could they possibly know that if the suspect was masked?). Maybe it happened, but I am wondering how could he be so certain the incidents are unrelated? And if they are completely unrelated, doesn’t that makes this all the more incredible.

      Either way, I really hope they can get to the bottom of this. Either so that the guilty parties are caught, if it was a robbery, and the community is safer. OR, that we can breathe a sigh of relief if it was just a hoax or delusion.

      And, of course, you’re right. If this was all in his mind, then no crime was really committed, because it was his own money he was withdrawing.

    • seth says:

      like shutter island!

  12. Here is a question I have. If his story is correct, then why once he was out of sight of these alleged gunslingers who taped this non-bomb to him, why did he not just pull the darned thing off? Or if the duct tape was too hard to get at, why not just take his shirt off, as was done eventually anyway?

    • Emmy says:

      Well I’ve thankfully never had a bomb strapped to me, but I can only imagine that if I did, I’d be afraid to touch the thing for fear of setting it off. I know that I wouldn’t try to get it off without the aid of a trained professional. I assume they didn’t remove it until they were sure it wasn’t real as well.

    • Brooke says:

      That’s my thought as well, Emmy. If he really believed there was a real bomb strapped to his back, he’d probably be pretty hesitant to tamper with it. I know I would be. I wouldn’t try to mess with it.

      • seth says:

        i wonder if there’s even the most obscenely small possibility that he’d have realized that your everyday citizen would be afraid to tamper with an alleged explosive, and so didn’t tamper with it, so as to appear like an ordinary citizen…..
        or maybe, it’s possible that it’s more of a fight club kind of thing and his crazy, brad pitt side, unbeknownst to the ordinary citizen side, was aware that it wasn’t a real explosive, but the edward norton half thought it was real.

        gosh this is exciting!

    • I wondered something similar when I watched Speed back in the 90s: why not just shoot the tires off the bus before it reaches 50 mph?

      What. do. you. do?

  13. Not unreasonable replies. I would suggest at this point, however, that nobody should be worried about appearing to “presume guilt” on his part. After all, what did he do? He walked into a bank and tried to withdraw money from his own accout. That certainly is not a crime. He did have something strapped to his back that he said was a bomb, but it was not. So, he was not guilty of bringing a bomb into a bank, athough maybe falsely claiming that one has a bomb is somehow a crime. In any case, it is not surprising that no charges have been brought, despite all the upheaval and scare, especially given that the alleged two black men have somehow not shown or been reported to have been seen at all by anybody other than this gentleman.

  14. Scott says:

    I am perplexed about how this strategy would have worked regardless of whether or not masked robbers were involved. You can’t expect to walk (or send someone) into a bank with a bomb without raising a few eyebrows. Would the robbers request that he bring the money back to them without anticipating the police getting involved in one way or another? Seems like a pretty ridiculous plan no matter who hatched it.

    • Brooke says:

      Scott, if I understand Dr. Smith’s version of things, the idea was that the bomb was to make sure he did as he was told. He was supposedly given a 20 minute time frame in which to get the money and return, or they’d detonate. What I read on either DNR or WHSV was that he had a jacket on to hide the bomb. They were alerted to the supposed bomb when he felt like she was taking too long, and he *told* her about the bomb and said he was being robbed, asking her to please hurry up with the withdrawal. So, theoretically, the teller wasn’t ever supposed to know there was a bomb, it was only meant to make him scared and compliant, and that, yes, he’d bring the money back to them, at which point I guess they’d tell him the joke was on him and get away with the dough.

Reader Tweets

Latest Flickr photos in the hburgnews Flickr pool
Announcements & Press Releases
  • Friendly City Grand Opening Set for July 9

    Friendly City Food Co-Op, Harrisonburg’s consumer-owned grocery, invites the community to come see its new destination for natural, organic and locally-produced products at the store’s grand opening 11 a.m.-5 p.m. July 9 at 150 East Wolfe Street.

  • Friendly City Becomes Member of National Cooperative Grocers Association

    HARRISONBURG, VA — Friendly City Food Co-op, slated to open this month in Harrisonburg, Va., has become the newest member of the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), a business services cooperative serving 120 consumer-owned food co-ops nationwide.

  • Harrisonburg Recognized as a Bike Friendly Community

    May 2: Harrisonburg was honored when the League of American Bicyclists announced the latest round of Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) designations over the weekend to kick off May as National Bike Month.