A man believed to be a member of the elusive Animal Liberation Front has been indicted in connection with the 1997 bombing of the Utah Fur Breeders Agricultural Cooperative in Sandy.
Douglas Joshua Ellerman, 19, Salt Lake City, was named Thursday in a 16-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury.He is accused of using six unregistered explosives in the form of pipe bombs to destroy the co-op building and seven vehicles, causing about $1 million in damage.
The indictment is the first big break in the yearlong investigation and is believed to be the first criminal charge filed against an ALF member in Utah.
Special agent B.J. Zapor in the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said Ellerman indicated to ATF agents that he was a member of the ALF, a militant underground group opposed to the killing or abuse of animals for food or any other purpose.
Dave Wilson, director of the Utah chapter of the Coalition to Abolish Fur Trade, said he knows Ellerman and is "shocked" by the indictment.
"Josh is just a normal kid," Wilson said. "He doesn't eat animal products, but he's the last person to ever be involved in a thing like that."
According to Zapor, members of the ATF National Response Team and Salt Lake field agents broke the case through analysis of evidence left at the scene and numerous interviews. And he said the investigation isn't over.
"The investigation is continuing and ongoing and by no means concluded by the indictment of Mr. Ellerman," Zapor said, implying more charges could be filed against others. "We would consider this an early stage of the investigation."
The bombing, the worst case of animal-rights terrorism in Utah's history, occurred sometime around 2 a.m. on March 11. Five pipe bombs were apparently placed beneath trucks parked outside the co-op building at 8720 S. 700 West. One bomb was placed inside the main building. All six were detonated.
The co-op was apparently targeted because it ships feed to mink ranchers throughout the country.
Zapor said the ATF is becoming increasingly proficient at finding evidence amid the rubble of bomb and fire scenes. Part of its investigative arsenal includes the use of bomb-sniffing dogs, he noted.
Ellerman, who is not in custody, has been ordered to appear before U.S. Magistrate Ronald Boyce at 10:45 a.m. on July 2.