Aspen suspect ‘well armed’ when he was found dead |

Aspen suspect ‘well armed’ when he was found dead

Wyatt Haupt Jr.
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The former Aspen resident who left several homemade bombs in the downtown area on New Year’s Eve died Thursday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, police said.

James Chester Blanning Jr., 72, was found dead at 2:19 a.m. inside his Jeep Cherokee next to the North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen, authorities said. The vehicle was parked on the side of Highway 82.

Blanning was “well armed” at the time he was located by authorities, Bill Linn, Aspen assistant police chief, said at a Thursday press conference. Blanning had a handgun and rifle in the vehicle.

A witness reported seeing the suspect around 1:30 a.m. Thursday driving a green SUV with a spare tire on the roof. It may have been the last reported sighting of Blanning alive.

Blanning strolled into two banks Wednesday afternoon and left a box at each location with an attached demand note, authorities said. The notes were identical.

The note, a copy of which was later dropped off at the front door of The Aspen Times along with a personal letter, stated the boxes contained a big “fire cracker (IED)”.

The note also made a demand for cash ” $60,000 in “used” $100 bills. Linn said the head teller at each bank was to be given “20 minutes to give up” the money to a man outside the bank.

At that point each bank alerted authorities.

A representative from Wells Fargo Bank telephoned at 2:23 p.m. Wednesday, according to a timeline released by Aspen police Thursday. Vectra Bank reported the threat at 2:36 p.m.

The banks are about two blocks apart, with Wells Fargo at 119 S. Mill St., and Vectra at 534 E. Hyman Ave.

Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis identified Blanning through bank surveillance footage at about 8:17 p.m. Braudis and Blanning had been friends for decades.

Linn said the packages contained 5-gallon “plastic bladders” of gasoline that were fitted with cellular phone actuators and mousetraps, or anti-tampering mechanisms.

Two other packages were found on a black sled in the alley behind the Gap at 204 S. Galena St. Those packages were apparently intended for two other banks.

Linn said it was not clear if the bombs, which were disguised as presents, could have been detonated as configured by Blanning.

The Grand Junction bomb squad disabled the devices overnight. Linn said the bomb at Wells Fargo created a small “fireball” when it was detonated. No injuries were reported.

Blanning, most recently a Denver resident, suggested in his demand note there was a fifth bomb “hidden in a high end watering hole that we will remove after we are fully clear and know for sure all has gone well.”

Authorities said that led them to canvas as many as the local bars and restaurants that they could overnight. Aspen police officers were seen Thursday heading in and out of many related locations.

“The intent is to go to every bar or watering-hole type of establishment,” said Aspen police spokeswoman Stephanie Dasaro.

She said officers encouraged people to look for anything suspicious. They also showed photographs of some of the evidence collected in the case.

The bomb threat resulted in the closure of a 16-block perimeter stretching from Main Street to Cooper Avenue, and from Aspen Street to Original Curve. The area was also evacuated with reverse 911 calls going out to businesses in late afternoon.

The evacuation order was lifted about 5 a.m. Thursday.

Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said the perimeter was determined by the size and potential of the bombs. The threat also led the city of Aspen to postpone its fireworks show until Thursday night.

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