This portrait should surprise no one, given that just about every person who launches a self-aggrandizing anti-government terror campaign is described in precisely those terms. We are accustomed to hearing the neighbors exclaim over the sudden and precipitous demise of the "nice" young man, who visited his grandparents regularly and mowed the lawn without being asked. And so, for fitting so neatly into both our preconceived notions of "domestic terrorist" and "perfectly pleasant boy next door," Lucas John Helder is our Person of the Week.
The explosives were accompanied by the following text (typographical and grammatical errors are from the original):
"Mailboxes are exploding! Why, you ask?
Helder is a mystery only in that he is so completely lacking in mystery; like most young men his age, he had quirks, like proselytizing to his friends about religion and philosophy. He was good at using tools, welding, things like that. He once got written up in college for smoking marijuana. Hardly the type of personality that should keep parents up at night.
Since their son's arrest Tuesday, Helder's parents have likely done nothing but sit up at night, wondering how their son could have harbored so much they didn't recognize. They will have plenty of time in courtrooms to contemplate their son's metamorphosis. Helder has racked up an exhaustive list of charges; in Iowa and Illinois, he's charged with using a pipe bomb in a crime of violence and destroying property used in interstate commerce. Conviction in the Iowa charges alone could mean life in prison, but there's more: He was charged in Nebraska with interstate transportation of explosives and to top it all off, he faces a firearms charge in Nevada.
He covered a lot of ground during his five-day odyssey 3,400 miles, to be exact, leaving a trail of 18 pipe bombs. The devices, which Helder planted in mailboxes, injured six people, spraying BBs and nails in a burst of smokeless gunpowder. (In one more bizarre twist, Helder says he was planning to place the bombs in locations to form a sort of geographical smiley face).
Helder has cheerfully some authorities say manically confessed to his crimes, leaving his attorneys with a dwindling list of options for mounting a defense. Will they try an insanity plea? It's possible. It seems Helder knew what he was doing: he reportedly called his father and left notes for his roommate, tipping them off about his crime spree; he also sent a warning letter/manifesto to the student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The question is whether he knew that what he was doing was wrong.
Meanwhile, Helder's bewildered parents are tearfully playing catch-up with their son, trying to maintain contact between prison transfers. "We told him we love him," they declared after speaking with Luke on Thursday. "And we're praying for the families of the victims." Let's hope somebody's doing the same for the Helders.