Confesses to placing bomb in church but says it had no anti-black motive
By Dan Herbeck and Gene Warner
NEWS STAFF REPORTERS
Updated: July 08, 2009, 7:31 AM /
After finding a pipe bomb inside a predominantly African-American church Saturday, authorities thought they had a hate crime on their hands.
But the troubled 28-year-old man who was arrested Tuesday in connection with the incident told federal agents that he was motivated by anger at himself.
Richard M. Blonski, who is white, also told agents that he had consumed a huge amount of Southern Comfort whiskey and “a bunch of beers” before trying to bomb Redeeming Fire Fellowship Church on Lewis Street.
“I do not know why I put the pipe bomb into the church,” Blonski told the U. S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “I did not target the church because they were black.
“I think I did it because I am mad at myself. I am mad at myself because I am not going anywhere in my life. I have an addiction to pills and alcohol . . . I feel like I am a failure to my girl and my kids.”
Blonski, who works as a fence installer and lives on Jones Street not far from the church, was arrested after an intensive weekend investigation by ATF agents, the FBI, Buffalo police, Buffalo fire marshals and the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.
Arrested early Tuesday morning, he faces three felony federal charges accusing him of possessing a pipe bomb and bombmaking materials.
So far, he has not been charged with the attempted bombing of the East Side church, but he admitted to it in a statement that was filed in arrest papers at federal court.
Further charges could be filed later — for the arson and also if agents determine a hate crime was committed — acting U. S. Attorney Kathleen M. Mehltretter said.
Do authorities believe Blonski’s claim that he was so drunk that he doesn’t know why he did it?
“At this point, we have no reason to believe it was a hate crime, although we’ll be investigating a lot further,” said Joseph G. Green, a spokes- man for the ATF. “Was he just a drunk and depressed guy, acting out? That is quite possible.”
An intruder broke into the church Saturday night, according to police, lit a pipe bomb with a fuse and threw it inside the church. The pipe bomb did not go off. It was found later.
The only damage was a broken door, and church members attended their regular weekly service at the church Sunday morning.
Redeeming Fire Fellowship is a nondenominational group that bought the building — which for decades was Precious Blood Catholic Church — last month.
Connie Snell, administrative assistant at Redeeming Fire Fellowship, said she has no reason to believe — at this point, at least — that Blonski had racist motives.
She said the church has had “no trouble” with neighborhood residents since beginning services at the former Catholic church in early June.
“Actually, the neighbors have been friendly and welcoming to us,” Snell said. “Because our services are so different from a Catholic Mass, some people have been curious, asking questions. But no one has bothered us.”
Snell said that, to her knowledge, no one from the church has ever had any run-in with Blonski.
In his statement, Blonski said he made the pipe bomb on the Fourth of July, using metal pipe, gun powder he got from bottle rockets and a wick he got from some firecrackers.
“I made the pipe bomb sometime after dark, and I went over to the church on my bike. I carried the pipe bomb in my pants pocket,” Blonski said. “I used my foot to kick the glass door [of the church]. I then lit the wick with a lighter and placed the bomb through the hole. I was so [messed] up that I am not sure what I did after . . . . Because I drank so much I am having a hard time remembering where I was the rest of the night.”
Green said authorities made the attempted bombing a high priority because a church was targeted.
Authorities said James J. O’Neill, a city fire marshal, worked extensively over the weekend with other investigators, including Jason N. Bernhard and Huy Khuu of the ATF.
Calling Blonski “a danger to the community,” prosecutor Richard P. Maigret asked U. S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott to keep him in jail until his case is completed. Scott agreed, at least until a bail hearing that will be held Friday morning.
The Rev. David Keaton said it bothers him that his church was targeted for a bombing, but he added that the Saturday night incident is “the only negative thing” that has occurred since his church took over the Lewis Street building last month.
“This building sat vacant for a long time, and nothing like this ever happened before. Four weeks after we arrived, this happens to us. It does make you wonder,” he said. “I hope [investigators] get to the bottom of why this was done.”
But Keaton quickly added that he believes the crime was the work of one misguided individual. “People in this neighborhood have been wonderful and welcoming, especially since the incident Saturday night,” Keaton said. “We’ve had all kinds of people come to our door, and people leaving us cards and letters at the church. They’re all saying, ‘This incident doesn’t speak for the people in our neighborhood.’ ”
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