LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Christian Examiner) - Police emptied a mall in Las Cruces yesterday, after a suspicious package was reported there, a week after explosives disrupted worship at two churches Sunday, Aug. 2.
Police later said the package did not pose a threat to the public, and they believe the incidents are unrelated in the town that has been on high alert since the blasts last week shattered a glass door at Holy Cross Catholic Church and destroyed a mailbox at Calvary Baptist Church.
Pastor Kevin Glenn started his first week as the new senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church the day after the Las Cruces churches were hit by explosives Aug. 2 within 30 minutes of each other.
"There is no doubt Sunday's incident has brought on a range of fears and concerns," Glenn wrote in a Facebook post, dated Aug. 5. "Only our Lord is able to provide ultimate security to each of us through Jesus Christ. However, in our daily lives we must be wise and vigilant to do everything possible to provide an environment within which all can feel both welcome and secure."
Glenn wrote that since the bombing, the church leadership has reflected on what has been done well and shared a list of detailed plans that will be taken to ensure the safety and security of the church's members and guests.
Security cameras with 24-hour recording capabilities will be installed throughout the exterior and interior of the church campus and there will be "an increased presence" of church members with law enforcement experience on the campus.
Other plans include training elders and greeters to identify and report potential threats, and hosting an informational workshop on emergency preparedness for church members and area churches.
"Our hope is that [this] information clarifies that while we take the safety and protection of our guests, members, and workers very seriously, we are also committed to our mission of being a place and people of grace," Glenn wrote.
Surveillance footage shows "person of interest"
In related news, Las Cruces law enforcement hope newly discovered surveillance footage may lead them to the person responsible.
The video shows a man, identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a "person of interest", carrying something under his arm and walking toward Calvary Baptist Church shortly before the first explosion. He is empty-handed as he walks away a few minutes later.
At a press conference with officials on Friday, Aug. 7, Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya said local law enforcement agencies would work non-stop over the weekend to ensure the public's safety.
"We are fully staffed for the weekend," Montoya said. "All leave has been denied. So we want all our people out there, we actually have people on call."
The multi-agency investigation includes the FBI, Homeland Security, and federal, state and local authorities, and so far, "hundreds of tips" have been received and "several" individuals have been "looked at."
Despite the information coming in, Carol Lee, Albuquerque FBI's special agent in charge, said the investigation is a difficult one.
"The freedom of the people of the United States to assemble in their chosen places of worship is one of the most precious liberties we enjoy in this country," Lee said at the news conference. "Nobody has a right to interfere or try to intimidate those who exercise that liberty."
The FBI hopes someone will recognize the man, wearing a blue, short-sleeved shirt, plaid shorts, and hiking boots, and is offering a $20,000 reward. Crimestoppers is also offering a $7,500 reward. Anyone with information can call 1-800-CALL-FBI or 1-800-225-5324.