FBI: Motive sought behind plane crash

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by KVUE News & The Associated Press

kvue.com

Posted on February 19, 2010 at 7:18 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 7:56 PM

AUSTIN -- FBI officials Friday afternoon said investigators are searching for a motive after a pilot intentionally flew a plane into an IRS office in Northwest Austin.

Ralph Diaz, of the FBI which is heading up the investigation into Thursday's plane crash, spoke at a joint news conference with City of Austin officials, including AFD, APD and EMS.  Diaz said preliminary identification of the pilot as Joseph Stack would remain preliminary until a forensic examination is complete.

He also cautioned that he would release little information until investigators are certain they know the facts.

The news conference comes as police and fire investigators Friday picked through the wreckage of the Echelon building at Highway 183 and 360.  Investigators also were at Stack's brick home about six miles away -- which Stack is suspected of setting fire to before taking off in his plane Thursday. The home's roof had caved in and its windows were blown out.

Two bodies were found in the Echelon building.  FBI officials say they have identified the remains but would not confirm their identities.  Authorities say at least 13 other people were hurt.  One was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center with severe burns.

Stack's wife, Sheryl, released a statement Friday saying in part, "Words cannot adequately express my sorrow or the sympathy I feel for everyone affected by this unimaginable tragedy.  I want to thank my friends, family, colleagues and neighbors as well as members of my church and others for the expressions of kindness and generosity in our time of grief."

She also said that she and her family would make no further comment beyond the statement and take no questions concerning the case.  She requested privacy and personal space, but expressed sympathies to the victims and their families.

The Associated Press reports one law enforcement official said investigators are trying to find out if a marital dispute led to Stack's angry flight.

Stack had posted a self-described tax rant online before Thursday's crash.

"He didn't rant about anything," said Pam Parker, an Austin attorney whose husband played in a band with Stack. "He wasn't obsessed with the government or any of that. ... Not a loner, not off in a corner. He had friends and conversation and ordinary stuff."

Stack, around 10 a.m. Thursday, took off from Georgetown in a four-seat Piper, flying low over the Austin skyline before plowing into the side of the building in a fiery crash.

Investigators believe the plane hit near the 1st floor where IRS workers were located.

“That side of the ... look there's no glass left,” said Gerry Cullen, witness, in the hours after the crash.  “Anybody near that side -- the plane probably went 50 feet in there. They're not alive. I can't imagine the violence of that. A big gasoline explosion plus the weight of the plane, what does the plane weigh? 2,300 pounds? That's a lot of energy hitting the building. It shook us when it hit.”

Despite the fire and smoke most workers in the building were able to escape. 

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said "heroic actions" by federal employees may explain why the death toll was so low.

Andrew Jacobson, an IRS revenue officer who was on the second floor when the plane hit with a "big whoomp" and then a second explosion, said about six people couldn't use the stairwell because of smoke and debris. He found a metal bar to break a window so the group could crawl out onto a concrete ledge, where they were rescued by firefighters. His bloody hands were bandaged.

Stack and a federal employee remain unaccounted.

Investigators also determined Stack apparently set his own house on fire before his suicide flight.

The biggest clues are coming from Stack himself; he left a manifesto online.  The tirade posted Thursday on a Web site registered in Stack's name began: "If you're reading this, you're no doubt asking yourself, `Why did this have to happen?'"

He recounted his financial reverses, his difficulty finding work in Austin, and at least two clashes with the IRS, one of them after he filed no return because, he said, he had no income, the other after he failed to report his wife Sheryl's income.

He railed against politicians, the Catholic Church, the "unthinkable atrocities" committed by big business, and the government bailouts that followed. He said he slowly came to the conclusion that "violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer."

Congressman Michael McCaul of Austin, who's on the Homeland Security Committee, says the panel will take up the issue of how to better protect buildings from attacks with planes.

McCaul says he considers an act against a federal office building to be an act of domestic terrorism.

According to California state records, Stack had a troubled business history, twice starting software companies in California that ultimately were suspended by the state's tax board, one in 2000, the other in 2004. Also, his first wife filed for bankruptcy in 1999, listing a debt to the IRS of nearly $126,000.

The blaze at Stack's home, a red-brick house on a tree-lined street in a middle-class neighborhood six miles from the crash site, caved in the roof and blew out the windows.

Elbert Hutchins, who lives one house away, said the house caught fire about 9:15 a.m. He said a woman and her daughter drove up to the house before firefighters arrived.

"They both were very, very distraught," said Hutchins, a retiree who said he didn't know the family well. "'That's our house!' they cried. `That's our house!'"

Thursday was not the first time a tax protester went after an Austin IRS building. In 1995, Charles Ray Polk plotted to bomb the IRS Austin Service Center. He was released from prison in October of last year.

The tax protest movement has a long history in the U.S. and was a strong component of anti-government sentiments that surged during the 1990s. That wave culminated in the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people. Several domestic extremists were later convicted in the plot.

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