Investigations continuing into apparently coordinated act
Authorities in the city of Las Cruces, N.M., are trying to figure out who planted bombs in Catholic and Baptist churches a few miles apart and what materials were used.
The bombs were detonated 20 minutes apart on Sunday morning. Each building had minor damage, but no one was injured.
“It doesn’t appear to be coincidental because of the timing, but you never know,” said a police spokesman, Danny Trujillo.
Several agencies, including the F.B.I., the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the New Mexico State Police, were assisting the investigation, the New York Times reported.
The first explosive device went off at 8:20 a.m. in a mailbox on a wall near the administrative entrance to Calvary Baptist. … Churchgoers said the explosion shook the building, and there was debris around the damaged mailbox.
Twenty minutes later, as Msgr. John Anderson, pastor of Holy Cross, was praying the Words of Institution, the church was shaken by a blast in a trash can. It shattered a glass entry nearby.
“I was right in the middle of saying the words ‘take and eat, this is my body,’ and there was a pow! I mean, I knew it had to be more than a gunshot,” Msgr. Anderson told The Las Cruces Sun-News. “I didn’t know if it was a shotgun blast, I didn’t know what. But it was very loud, and I just kept on saying the words.”
Police officers evacuated the church and blocked surrounding streets. Bomb-sniffing dogs searched the building.
Liturgies were canceled for the rest of the day at both churches, which are less than four miles apart. Trujillo said he did not know of any recent threats involving either church.
Msgr. Anderson said he was grateful the blast had not occurred a little later.
"I’m just thankful to God nobody was standing by the door, because there’s usually always somebody standing there. But because it was the consecration part of the Mass, everybody was kneeling down and facing toward the altar," he said. "Ten minutes later we would have been leaving and standing around that space."
State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said the acts were intended to terrorize churchgoers, though he declined to call it an act of terrorism at this time or confirm for certain that the two explosions were related, based on current information, according to the Sun-News.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez vowed that the person responsible would be caught and urged people to continue to attend church services.
"Whoever did this will feel the full pressure of the law," she said. "If your intention was to bring fear to those who worship, you have failed."
Msgr. Anderson said the church would probably have to increase security and “have people in the parking lot all the time and have cameras in that gathering area to see who is there at all times.”
Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces expressed thanks that nobody was hurt and vowed the church services would continue, but with more prudence. His words were read at a rally Sunday night in a local park, in which faith leaders from throughout the community called for forgiveness and a stronger sense of community, the paper reported.
On Holy Cross’s website and Facebook page, the parish announced Mondady morning that the police investigation had been concluded and that parishioners who had been forced to leave their cars in the church parking lot on Sunday were now free to retrieve them.