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Earl Moore gets life for bombing attempt at Southwest Plaza on Columbine anniversary

When news broke last year that Earl Moore had been charged with a single count of arson for placing an explosive device in Southwest Plaza mall on the anniversary of the attack on nearby Columbine High School, locals feared he'd receive relatively light punishment. But no: Moore has been sentenced to life in prison for the scheme, which produced far more fear than damage.

As we reported in our original coverage, on view below, Moore, who's now 66, committed crimes aplenty over the years but didn't exactly qualify as a kingpin.

Example: In 2004, the owners of the Pines apartments reportedly filed paperwork to evict Moore from an apartment where he'd lived for four years, and two banks hit him with civil actions, claiming debts of more than $10,000.

That same year, Moore headed to an area Costco with a knife -- but he didn't stick anyone up. Instead, he used it to slit the inner lining of his jacket, which he filled up with 24 storage discs valued at more than $1,500. Moore was stopped by cops outside the store, and he didn't put up a fight, saying, "I did it.... I got caught."

Authorities offered Moore a plea of two years probation for the offense, but rather than accept this deal, Moore skipped out on his sentencing hearing. The warrant subsequently issued in his name was still active in March 2005, when he was caught after stealing just over $2,500 from a West Virginia bank.

Moore was shipped to a Georgia prison for this heist, winning his release in early April 2011. About a week later, on the evening of April 19, he allegedly purchased propane tanks at a Target store near Southwest Plaza. Then, at 11:43 a.m. the next morning -- a time of day very close to when the Columbine assault got underway on April 20, 1999 -- he stepped through an employee entrance carrying a red and white bag of the sort Target uses. A minute later, he exited without it.

Moments later, at 11:52 a.m., an employee at Al's Formal Wear smelled smoke and saw flames coming from what looked like propane tanks. Fire responders soon found the tanks, some matches and a steel pipe bomb -- more than enough to prompt an evacuation of the mall. Also there: what appeared to be a burnt Target bag.

Had this incident taken place on any other day, and in any other location, it might have received modest local news coverage and been promptly forgotten. But because it happened on the Columbine anniversary within spitting distance of the school, the act quickly became an international story even as it freaked out locals fearful that a lethal copycat was on the loose.

Meanwhile, police at the local and federal level flew into action, and it didn't take long for them to uncover surveillance footage of a man matching Moore's description at the mall and on an RTD bus. By April 23, they had a DNA match, which led to the formal naming of Moore as a suspect, as well as his later capture at a Boulder King Soopers on April 26.

So...was Moore's act intended as a Columbine homage. Not according to what he told investigators. He insisted that he didn't have any clue about the anniversary.

This claim didn't lessen the enthusiasm with which the U.S. Attorney's Office in Colorado prosecuted Moore. And yesterday, he was sentenced not for simple arson, as was originally anticipated, but for use of a destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence -- a charge to which he pleaded guilty. As noted by the Denver Post, Moore had hoped for a thirty-year sentence, but Judge John Kane didn't concur even though the would-be bomber's health is dubious; he's got prostate cancer and has tested positive for Hepatitis C. Hence, his criminal history -- nine felonies total -- was capped with a life sentence.

Below, check out the sequence of events that led to Moore's first court appearance, complete with photos, sketches and various criminal records.

Update, 11:27 a.m. April 27, 2011: At 2 p.m. this afternoon, Earl Albert Moore is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Denver to be advised of the charges against him in relation to an attempted bombing at Southwest Plaza mall on the twelfth anniversary of the shootings at nearby Columbine High School. However, Moore isn't being accused of a terrorist attack or the like. Instead, he faces a single count of arson.

Does that mean the timing of Moore's act was entirely coincidental rather than targeted at Columbine and the immediate community, many members of which were re-traumatized by school lockdowns and a heavy police presence on that fateful date? The U.S. Attorney's Office isn't saying at this point -- and there's no specific reference to motive in the Moore arrest report, on view below.

The timeline? Moore is said to have purchased propane tanks at a Target store more or less adjacent to Southwest Plaza on April 19, the night before the attack. Then, at 11:43 a.m. the next day -- a time of day very close to when the Columbine assault got underway -- he stepped through an employee entrance carrying a red and white bag of the sort Target uses. A minute later, he exited without it.

Moments later, at 11:52 a.m., an employee at Al's Formal Wear smelled smoke and saw flames coming from what looked like propane tanks. Fire responders soon found the tanks, some matches and a steel pipe bomb -- more than enough to prompt an evacuation of the mall. Also there: what appeared to be a burnt Target bag.

It didn't take investigators long to locate surveillance footage of a man matching Moore's description at the mall and an RTD bus; one of the images is seen here. And by April 23, they had a DNA match. That led to the formal naming of Moore as a suspect, as well as his subsequent capture, at a Boulder King Soopers yesterday morning.

An arson conviction carries with it five-to-twenty year sentence in federal prison and the possibility of a $250,000 fine. But there's no guarantee of answers for why Moore allegedly did what he did, and when.

Read the complaint below. Then page down to read our previous coverage.

Earl Albert Moore Complaint

Update, 10:11 a.m. April 26: The FBI Denver Joint Terrorism Task Force has just announced the capture of Earl Albert Moore, 65, suspected of an attempted bombing at Southwest Plaza mall on the anniversary of the shootings at nearby Columbine High School, earlier this morning at 3600 Table Mesa Drive in Boulder. That's the address of a King Soopers grocery store.

A press briefing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. this afternoon. Additional info as it becomes available. In the meantime, check out our previous Moore coverage below.

Update, 8:03 a.m. April 26: Earl Albert Moore, 65, is the subject of a nationwide manhunt for allegedly setting a pipe bomb to explode in Southwest Plaza mall on April 20, the anniversary of the shootings at nearby Columbine High School. Just a week earlier, he'd been released from a Georgia prison, where he was serving a stretch for robbing a West Virginia bank. But before he headed east, he had desperate money woes in Colorado that a shoplifting bust didn't solve.

Back in 2004, the owners of the Pines apartments reportedly filed paperwork to evict Moore from an apartment where he'd lived for four years, and two banks hit him with civil actions, claiming debts of more than $10,000.

That same year, Moore headed to an area Costco with a knife -- but he didn't stick anyone up. Instead, as seen in the Aurora Police Department arrest report on view below, he used it to slit the inner lining of his jacket, which he filled up with 24 storage discs valued at more than $1,500. Moore was stopped by the cops outside the store, and he didn't put up a fight, saying, "I did it... I got caught."

Not exactly the crime of the century, which is why he was offered a plea deal for two years probation, according to the Denver Post. But he skipped out on his sentencing hearing, prompting a warrant for his arrest that was still active in March 2005, when he was caught after stealing just over $2,500 from a West Virginia bank.

Still, none of this info explains why Moore would allegedly hurry back to Colorado after his April 13 release from prison and set a bomb in a mall on the Columbine anniversary. That's a big-time crime for what seems like a small-time crook.

Look below to read the 2004 arrest affidavit, followed by our previous reporting, including Moore's mug shots and more.

Earl Albert Moore 2004 Arrest Report

Update, 7:42 a.m. April 25: Earl Albert Moore, 65, allegedly set a propane-enhanced pipe bomb to explode on the twelfth anniversary of the shootings at nearby Columbine High School. Just seven days before his attempted attack, he was reportedly released from prison in Georgia, where he was serving a bank-robbery jolt. And now he's the subject of a nationwide manhunt.

Since 2000, Columbine has been closed on April 20, the anniversary of the date when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve students and one teacher before ending their own lives -- so the school itself was an empty target. But Southwest Plaza was open for business, and on April 19, a man now ID'd as Moore was captured in multiple surveillance photos near the food-court location where the explosives were placed. He also appears in photos taken on a bus heading away from the mall that evening.

The next day, a small fire broke out in the mall, and authorities soon found two propane tanks and a pipe bomb -- tools similar to those in the lethal arsenal of Harris and Klebold. At Columbine, the devices caused relatively minimal destruction, and that was the case at Southwest Plaza, too: no injuries were reported. However, schools throughout the area were locked down, causing panicky flashbacks for parents and residents, and freaking out thousands of students.

Since then, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, assisted by the FBI and the ATF, has made finding the bomber its top priority -- and the feds are now pointing the finger at Moore, who's spent time in front of judges and behind bars. As the Denver Post notes, he chalked up his first Colorado criminal record in 1984 after being busted in El Paso County for larceny at a time when he was also wanted by U.S. Marshals for possessing drugs. He also served a six-month sentence in Arapahoe County on a burglary charge circa 2004. The following year, an armed Moore robbed a bank in West Virginia, assaulting a clerk in the process of making off with the princely sum of $2,546.

For the latter, Moore was given an eighteen-year sentence that was subsequently reduced to seven. He hit the streets on April 13 and immediately bee-lined to Colorado, where his daughter makes her home (she's based in Lakewood). He's also lived in Denver, Englewood and Pueblo, according to the Post.

In surveillance photos on view below, Moore looks like the lead character in a senior-citizens-version of the video game Super Mario Brothers. Not so much in his booking photos, which include a gallery of tattoos, including a Viking on his forearm. See the shots below, followed by our previous coverage.

Update, 10:31 a.m. April 22: Soon after a suspicious device was found in the food court of Southwest Plaza mall on Wednesday, the twelfth anniversary of the shootings at nearby Columbine High School, the FBI circulated surveillance photos of a man described as a "person of interest."

Now, he has graduated to full-fledged suspect -- and the FBI is sharing even more shots of him.

According to FBI spokesman Dave Joly, the latest images come courtesy of the RTD polie department. They show the man riding a bus on the evening of April 19. The bus left the mall at approximately 8:30 p.m., heading northbound on Wadsworth.

Check out the photos below, and call the Jeffco tip line at 303-271-5615 with any information. Then read our previous coverage below.

Original item, 9:19 a.m. April 21 -- update below: For those of us who live in unincorporated Jefferson County near Columbine High School, even a trip to the mall can spark memories of the April 20, 1999 massacre there. That's because Southwest Plaza, just a little more than a mile from the high school, was turned into a public memorial following the attack. Which is why the fire and discovery of at least one incendiary device there yesterday, on Columbine's twelfth anniversary, was so unnerving.

As I wrote ten years after the killings, my twin daughters' elementary school was close enough to Columbine that it was locked down -- and they still remember with terror being in the backyard of our house knowing that something awful had happened as helicopters hovered overhead.

Cut to yesterday, when they returned from lunch to Chatfield High School, where they're seniors (and where Columbine students finished the 1999 school year), to learn that a lock-in was in progress. When an administrator spoke on the loudspeakers to explain that there'd been an incident at the mall, one of my daughters said she's never heard the school so quiet.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley knows how they feel. She was at the Columbine crime scene in 1999 for the first eight days without a break, and she admits that the moment she heard about the so-called "suspicious devices" found -- a pair of propane tanks and a pipe bomb -- near where a small fire broke out in the Southwest Plaza food court, her mind immediately took her back in time. After all, propane tanks and pipe bombs were part of the arsenal deployed by Columbine murderers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, too.

At the scene yesterday.
At the scene yesterday.

"This was a concern whether it happened on April 20 or any other day," she notes. "But it was absolutely disturbing that this happened in our mall, and much more disturbing that it happened yesterday. It's hard to ignore the fact that it was April 20, the twelfth anniversary of the shootings -- and then to have similarities on top of that...

"This is a very difficult day for the community every year, and to have a suspect or suspects decide to impact this community again on that day is actually quite disgusting."

Kelley confirms that the propane tanks and the pipe bomb were found very close to each other, but there's been no final determination as to whether they were part of the same device or were separate explosives. However, an extensive sweep turned up nothing else dangerous in the rest of Southwest Plaza, and Kelley says the mall should open for business as usual later this morning.

In the meantime, the sheriff's office, supplemented by the FBI and the ATF, will continue to work on the case. "People were up all night, and they'll be up all day -- and probably up all night again looking into this, and we're all hoping that progress is made," she says. "This is truly our number-one priority right now -- to identify a suspect. And we have every intention of making an arrest or arrests associated with this attack."

In addition, they want to speak with a man captured on surveillance cameras close to the spot where the fire broke out: a white male with graying hair and a silver mustache who yesterday wore a dark-colored cap, a dark jacket with silver buttons, blue jeans and dark shoes. He's only being called a person of interest right now -- although person of great interest might be a better way to put it. Check out images of him below.

Earl Moore gets life for bombing attempt at Southwest Plaza on Columbine anniversary

Earl Moore gets life for bombing attempt at Southwest Plaza on Columbine anniversary

Update, 9:19 a.m. April 21: The FBI has come up with another surveillance-camera photo featuring the person of interest in the attempted Southwest Plaza attack yesterday. Here it is:

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More from our Follow That Story archive: "Forgiving my Columbine High School friend, Dylan Klebold."