Investigation continues into St. Louis high-rise explosion

Saturday, October 18, 2008

CLAYTON, Mo. -- St. Louis County police on Friday released video surveillance footage showing a potential suspect in the explosion that injured a prominent St. Louis-area lawyer.

The video shows a man entering a parking garage in the suburb of Clayton between 4:30 and 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, the day before the explosion. He is wearing a brightly colored poncho with the hood pulled up and sunglasses.

Police spokeswoman Tracy Panus said the man is carrying a gift basket that held the explosive device. He was also carrying helium-filled balloons covered with a clear plastic bag. He is described as a man of average build and height. Authorities could not determine his race by the video.

Police set up a tip line -- 314-615-4827 -- for anyone with information about the crime.

The explosion Thursday inside the parking garage injured 69-year-old John Gillis. Authorities said Gillis was hurt when he picked up a package that was sitting near his car, and the package exploded. His injuries are not considered life-threatening.

But the blast was strong enough to shake the office building and be heard blocks away in Clayton. A high-rise office building, two residential buildings and a Ritz-Carlton Hotel were evacuated while police and bomb-sniffing dogs checked them.

Gillis is a senior counsel at the law firm Armstrong Teasdale. He is also chairman of the board of directors of Aquinas Institute of Theology, a Roman Catholic institution in St. Louis. The law firm's website lists him as a former Marine who is included in the publication "The Best Lawyers in America 2009."

Target unknown

In a statement, the law firm said Gillis is known for his expertise in the areas of securities law, mergers and acquisitions and issues related to closely held corporations.

FBI special agent Billy Cox said it wasn't known if Gillis was the intended target. He said there was no evidence of threats against Gillis or his law firm, nor were there any known threats to the parking garage or the area around it.

The possibility of domestic terrorism "obviously is one aspect that's looked at," Cox said. "We haven't gotten any intel that would lead us to believe that."

ATF spokesman Mike Schmitz agreed there were no indications of terrorism.

But Panus said terrorism has not been ruled out.

Bomb threats are common at schools, police buildings and other public places, and Cox said authorities have occasionally found bomb-like devices in the St. Louis area that turned out to be harmless. But actual bombings are rare in the region, he said.

In 1970, a pipe bomb, also in Clayton killed businessman Phillip Lucier. That incident happened outside the Pierre Laclede Center -- about a block from Thursday's explosion. The crime was never solved.

In September 1980, James Michaels Sr. died when a car bomb exploded on Interstate 55, throwing part of his body out of his car and onto the windshield of a vehicle following him. David Leisure was convicted of the crime and was executed in 1999.

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