Winnemucca women identify mailbox bomber |

Winnemucca women identify mailbox bomber

by Teri Vance, Appeal Staff Writer
Karl Horeis, Nevada AppealMailbox bombing suspect Luke J. Helder, right, appears in Reno Federal Court on Wednesday with his federal public defender Vito de la Cruz. At the hearing he was ordered held without bail for transfer to Iowa.

Lori McDonagh leaned into the back seat of the car to grab a toy for her baby. Instead, she spotted a fugitive in a passing car.

McDonagh, 26, and her mother, Marge Walker, 51, were traveling along Interstate 80 on their way from Winnemucca to Dayton when they saw Lucas Helder, the suspected mailbox bomber, near Lovelock.

“We were just shocked,” Walker said. “We couldn’t believe it was real.”

McDonagh was twisted backward in her seat to grab a toy for her 9-month-old son, Sean, when she noticed the driver of a passing car had a large magazine-like book laid over the steering wheel.

“That’s really what caught our attention,” Walker said. “We couldn’t believe this kid was driving and reading.”

Before leaving home, McDonagh had logged onto the Internet to check weather conditions and saw a news story on Helder, who was wanted for planting 18 pipe bombs in rural-area mailboxes across five states and injuring six people.

They noticed the Minnesota license plates and that his Honda Accord matched the description given in the story. Walker read off the license plate number and McDonagh wrote it down, but they weren’t sure what to do next.

“We were a little hesitant at first,” Walker said. “What would he be doing out here in Nevada? But it just seemed too much like him to not do something.”

So they first called 911 from their cell phone, then they called an FBI hotline.

“Shortly after that, we started to see a lot of Highway Patrol,” Walker said. “We could tell things were happening.”

Seeing the police cars and hearing the sirens, they realized the gravity of the situation.

“We prayed for his parents and for the officers. And we prayed for him,” Walker said. “We’re so glad it ended with no one getting hurt.”

The two were headed to Dayton to pick up Julie Peters, another of Walker’s daughters, for a shopping trip in Sacramento on Wednesday. However, they spent most of the day fielding phone calls from reporters and conducting interviews and were not able to do their shopping.