A Hammond city employee — one of two people targeted last year by admitted pipe bomber Eric Krieg — said the former BP engineer's attempts to silence him for his Democratic political leanings failed.
"His entire purpose in making that threat was to silence me. He disagreed with my political views. But I realize now he’s the coward. He’s the one mailing bombs, making threats. And (my wife and I), we said we are not going to be bullied or silenced by him," Dave Hein, of Hammond, told The Times on Wednesday.
Hein said a lengthy prison sentence for Krieg, 46, of Munster, would send a clear message to people who "use violence as a means of political speech."
"There’s no doubt that he did it. The evidence was overwhelming and I think you’ve got to send a strong message to people who want to use violence as a means of political speech that it's unacceptable," Hein said.
Krieg, formerly a BP engineer before his arrest last year, faces a possible 29 years in prison at sentencing, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
He is accused of mailing Hein a threatening letter with a bullet on Sept. 29, 2017, weeks after mailing a pipe bomb that inadvertently exploded at an East Chicago postal facility on Sept. 6, 2017. The explosion injured a pregnant worker instead of his intended target, a family attorney of Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.
On Tuesday, Krieg entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court to knowingly making an unregistered destructive device, mailing a destructive device, malicious use of explosive materials and mailing a threatening communication, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney's office.
That "threatening communication" arrived in Hein's mailbox in the form of a "strange" envelope that contained a bullet with a message that read, "The next one will be in the back of your head."
At the time, Hein told The Times he immediately jumped to the first pipe bomb that blew up in East Chicago.
"I thought, 'Whoever sent that bomb is targeting me now,'" Hein said.
Krieg was arrested in October 2017 and has remained in custody since.
A blogger who held grudges
Hein said he believed his liberal political leanings and outspoken support for Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., a Democrat, led Krieg — an outspoken critic of the Lake County Democratic Party and McDermott — to target him.
In his plea agreement, Krieg stated he ran a blog and engaged in "a series of online postings and communications concerning other residents in Northwest Indiana," where the grudges that fueled his decision to create and mail the explosives stemmed.
Kreig, who had run for Lake County offices in the past, posted political blogs under the nickname "Buzzcut."
In the plea agreement, Hein is not identified but instead labeled as "Victim 3" — a Northwest Indiana resident whom Krieg engaged with online.
Because his relationship with Krieg never extended beyond social media and message board posts, Hein said to this day, he can’t fathom why Krieg went as far as he did.
"The thing is what he did was just so outlandish, and just unbelievable evil that I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the motivation behind it," Hein said.
Hein said he first encountered Krieg years ago online, though he didn’t know it was Krieg at the time. He said he posted a politically charged message online about climate change beneath a Times article — at a time when the paper’s website featured comment threads.
"And that’s when Eric Krieg, who was working at BP at the time, vehemently disagreed. The name he used was Buzzcut. I didn’t know it then, but (that was Krieg),'" Hein said.
"You see (threats) on Facebook all the time now and we’ve almost come to accept it as commonplace," he said.
Lawsuit, grudges fueled bombing
According to court documents, Krieg said the first victim was a Schererville attorney who represented a client who filed a lawsuit against him. Krieg was sued in 2013 because of statements he made on his blog about Aaron McDermott, Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.'s brother, being arrested.
Krieg filed bankruptcy in response to the suit, however Aaron McDermott's attorney said the lawsuit could not be discharged with bankruptcy and Krieg agreed to settle the lawsuit by paying Aaron McDermott $45,000 and posting an apology on his blog.
"In retaliation for the filing and settling of this lawsuit and other grudges I held, I devised a plan to construct and mail a pipe bomb that I hoped and believed would kill or injure Victim 1," Krieg's plea agreement said. "I constructed this pipe bomb and knew that it contained explosives and items that would produce shrapnel. The pipe bomb was constructed in the Northern District of Indiana. The pipe bomb was not registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record."
Hein said he hopes Krieg, who is 46, "never sees the light of day again."
Hein said he is still involved with the local political scene, but posts far less online.
"It didn't really change what I do at the core. That will never change, but social media, it's just a waste of time, and I see I can do far more good just by staying off the computer," Hein said.
Who is Eric Krieg?
In 2012, Krieg butted heads with George Van Til for the position of Lake County surveyor as a Republican candidate and also ran for County Council a couple of times.
Krieg is also known for several political scuffles over the years, including his heavy criticism of the Lake County surveyor over handling of drainage projects and the Hammond mayor's campaign spending.
In December 2017, Krieg pleaded not guilty to making and mailing the explosive devices and threatening note but instead requested a delay in April for his federal trial slated at the time to start in May.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen agreed to give Krieg and his defense attorney, Kevin Milner, several more months to prepare for a jury trial, which was scheduled to begin the week of Nov. 5.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Chang opposed the defense's request as an unreasonable delay, arguing that the injured postal worker was pregnant at the time and has undergone both emotional and physical distress.
Chang also argued the person who Krieg intended as the target of the bomb also has gone through months of stress and the victim's family had planned their schedules around the original May trial setting and wanted the trial to proceed speedily.
In October, the U.S. attorney's office announced the jury trial had been reset for June 2019. Krieg asked in federal court for the trial to be delayed again to give his attorney time to prepare.
Krieg's plea hearing will happen "in the near future," according to the U.S. attorney's office.
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