Plane was crashed into Austin building by man angry at IRS, authorities say
A software engineer is presumed dead after flying his small plane into an office building. At least 13 people on the ground are injured and one is unaccounted for.
Source: LA Times
By Richard Fausset and Richard Serrano
Reporting from Washington and Austin, Texas
A disgruntled software engineer who had a beef with the Internal Revenue Service apparently set his house on fire, then slammed a small plane into an Austin, Texas, building where the federal agency had offices, authorities said Thursday.
Thirteen people on the ground were injured, two of them seriously, in an explosive crash that heavily damaged the seven-story building, said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo.
One federal employee was missing, and the body of the pilot had not been accounted for, officials said.
The presumed pilot, identified by the FBI as A. Joseph Stack, 53, is believed to have died in the crash, which sparked fears of another terrorist attack when witnesses saw a low-flying plane heading for the building minutes before 10 a.m.
“There really truly is no cause for alarm,” said Acevedo at an afternoon news conference. “We want to stress that this appears to be the act of a single individual and this act is contained . . . to this building.” When asked why he did not use the word “terrorism,” Acevedo said, “I personally consider this a criminal act by a lone individual. . . . You can define it any way you want.”
The crash turned the facade of the building into a charred mosaic, the billowing black smoke and orange flames evoking distressing memories of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in New York. Hundreds of workers fled the building. By late afternoon firefighters were still inside the glass-front building, dowsing spot fires in file cabinets and other pockets, officials said.
Emma Noriega, 38, a hairdresser, was in her hair salon across a busy Highway 183 when she heard the explosion, which was strong enough to shake her building.
“I was freaking out. I didn’t know what happened,” she said. Then she saw smoke pouring out of the building. When she heard reports that the explosion was an intentional act, she said, “it just brings you back to 9/11.”
Others nearby described seeing a fireball blooming up from lower floors and said the explosion sounded like a sonic boom.
Hundreds of emergency crew responded to the first call and, said Acevedo, “there were some heroic actions on the part of some employees” who saw the plane approaching the building and were able to warn others.
“It will be a testament to humanity, the good things. . . and what makes us special people,” Acevedo said of the workers.
The FBI is leading the investigation of Stack, whose North Austin house was engulfed in flames before his plane crashed into the office building.
He apparently left behind a six-page anti-government screed on a website, a communication that detailed his attempts over the years to get relief from tax laws he thought unfairly burdened him and that preached violence against an unfeeling government.
“I would only hope that . . . people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are,” said the note. “Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.”
Between sobs, Stack’s former wife, Ginger Stack, reached by phone in Hemet, Calif., said: “He was a good man. Frustrated with the IRS, yes, but a good man. . . . I’m in shock right now. He had good values. He really did.”
Stack, to whom she was married for 18 years, was “extremely intelligent,” she said. He helped raise her adult daughter, even giving her away at the wedding. After their divorce in Riverside County, Joseph Stack moved to Texas, she said.
In the Web posting, which was dated Feb. 18 and signed “Joe Stack (1956-2010),” he wrote that he was distressed by a 1986 change in federal tax law that some independent technical professionals thought imposed an unfair burden on them. “I am finally ready to stop this insanity,” Stack wrote. “Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”
Early on, when it seemed possible the crash could be an act of foreign terrorism, federal officials scrambled two F-16s from Houston’s Ellington Field.
President Obama was briefed on the incident, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One, en route for a campaign appearance in Colorado. Gibbs said the Department of Homeland Security would continue to investigate.
Stack’s home on the 1800 block of Dapplegrey Lane — a two-story, partly brick structure where he lived with his wife and young daughter — caught fire about 9:18 a.m. CST, Austin fire officials said.
Neighbor Carlotta Hutchins heard a loud blast and initially thought a car had exploded. She ran outside and saw smoke pouring from the Stack home, two houses away. Windows had shattered and flames were licking the roof and frames.
“It’s pretty much a shell right now,” she said.
The home, purchased in 2007, was assessed at $232,066.
Stack’s wife and daughter were safe and, according to neighbors, were not at home when the fire was set.
Stack then apparently went to nearby Georgetown Municipal Airport, where the Federal Aviation Administration said his four-seater, single-engine Piper Cherokee PA-28-236 took off about 9:40 a.m. local time. The plane was registered by Stack in 1998 to an address in Lincoln, Calif., north of Sacramento. FAA spokesman Paul Turk said the pilot did not file a flight plan, nor was he required to since he was not in controlled airspace and the weather was sunny. The airport is about 23 miles north of the crash site.
Just before 10 a.m., witnesses said the small craft appeared to sharply bank from the east across a highway. The craft came in low, hitting the building in the lower floors.
“It’s very surreal,” witness Megan Riley said in an interview with KXAN-TV.
The building was engulfed in flames after the crash. Firefighters poured into the structure to fight the blaze.
“There’s lots of smoke, lots of heat, lots of fire,” Assistant Chief Harry Evans said at a televised news conference. More than 100 first-responders arrived at the scene, he said.
The fire burned about 90 minutes before officials said it was contained.
The structure, known as the Echelon 1 Building, has business and government offices, including those of the IRS. In a statement, the IRS said 190 employees worked in the building.
Other federal law enforcement officials in Washington said that contrary to initial news reports, an FBI building is not located next to the structure that was hit. Rather, they said, “it’s a generic office building that the FBI has space in.” That space is used by the FBI’s resident agent in Austin.
According to the website for Stack’s company, called Embedded Art, he claimed to have more than 20 years of experience in the software development consulting business.
“Founded by Joe Stack in 1983 (under the name of Prowess Engineering) in Southern California, the company thrived for 15 years until shifting focus to the Sacramento area to take advantage of growth in the Silicon Valley,” he said in his company profile.
He said he moved to Austin “expecting to lend a hand to the growing high technology industry” in that region.
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