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Feds investigating possible explosive device set off in Richland County Law Enforcement Center

Federal investigators say they have identified a potential suspect.

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A wall with burn marks from an apparent explosion inside the entryway to the Richland County Law Enforcement Center.
Matt Henson / WDAY-TV
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WAHPETON, N.D. — Police believe they may be closing in on the person who may have set off an explosive device inside the Richland County Law Enforcement Center Tuesday, March 1, which houses the jail and several county offices.

Using surveillance video, federal investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives say they have identified a person of interest.

Richland County Sheriff Larry Leshovsky says surveillance video shows someone entering the entryway to the building around 9:30 p.m. That door is open after hours, and people have to be buzzed into the lobby.

Minutes later there was a fire in the entryway, and the fire was contained to that area. However, the building did fill with smoke, forcing 15 inmates in the jail to be evacuated to Cass and Barnes County jails for the night.

All inmates have returned to Richland County.

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"This could have been a potentially lethal situation," said Jonathan Ortiz, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the ATF's St. Paul field office. The ATF declined to say how the fire started.

Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner was called to ask how many inmates he could take. Briefed on the situation, it was described to him as an explosion.

"When you have an incident like this, there is obviously a heightened sense of awareness," said Jahner.

With the motive for the apparent attack unknown right away, and if other jails would be targeted, Sheriff Jahner immediately requested that the Fargo Police Department's new explosive sniffing dog search the Cass County Jail.

Extra patrols were also ordered overnight, and extra security measures will be in place this week.

"Over the next couple of days we will certainly pay attention to activities around our facility, who is coming and going, whether that is through visitation, attorney visits," said Jahner.

The ATF says it's possible the person who set the fire could face federal charges.

The Law Enforcement Center and County Courthouse building were closed Wednesday, March 2, due to the investigation.

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All offices will reopen Thursday.

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTS
Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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