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Deadly explosion at California spa was targeted attack, police say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 1:18am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 11:03pm

Federal and local investigators searched through debris for remnants of a possible explosive device at a southern California medical office building that exploded Tuesday afternoon.

Officials said the blast, which occurred around 1pm on Tuesday in Aliso Viejo, about 50 miles (80.5 kilometres) south of Los Angeles, appeared to be an intentional act caused by a package that specifically targeted the office where the explosion occurred.  

A woman was killed and three other people were injured in the blast. One of the officials said one of those people was believed to be the target.

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The cause of the blast remained a mystery for much of the day, with officials initially believing a car had smashed into the building. But sheriff’s officials said the size of the blast made it suspicious.  

It wasn’t clear how the explosive device came to be in the business, said Paul Delacourt, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles office.  

“We do not believe this was an accident,” Delacourt told reporters. “This explosion was caused by a device. … The damage at the scene was extensive.

A spokeswoman for the US Postal Inspection Service, the federal law enforcement branch of the US Postal Service, said the package delivered to the spa did not go through the Postal Service mail system. 

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The official said the information was based on a preliminary investigation. Authorities said they had not yet located an explosive device and were searching through debris.  

“We have not found any type of specific device inside of the building right now that would tell us or lead us to exactly what the device was, if there was a device,” said Commander Dave Sawyer of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. 

The blast blew siding off the walls, exposing insulation and framing and shattering windows at the two-story building that houses medical offices.  

“The corner of that building, the whole bottom floor is pretty much blown out,” said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito.  

The woman who was killed inside the building was “in close proximity” to the explosion, Sawyer said. The three people who were injured were nearby and were being questioned by investigators late Tuesday night, he said.  

“Any time you see an explosion of this magnitude, it would definitely be suspicious to us,” Sawyer said. 

Authorities were not searching for any specific suspects Tuesday night, but the investigation was continuing, he said. 

Mary McWilliams told The Orange County Register that she arrived for an appointment to find smoke in the area and car alarms going off. 

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She said she saw two burned women staggering out of the building, covered in ash and soot.  

One woman, who had burned skin peeling from her arm, said, “Take care of my mother,” McWilliams said. The other woman was bleeding from her head. 

Fire officials said a third person suffered smoke inhalation. 

A day care centre and preschool across the street were evacuated. Some children held hands as they were led out by firefighters while sheriff’s deputies rolled out babies in cribs. 

“When I was playing outside I heard the big crash. I thought it was a garbage truck but it was a building that smashed,” 6-year-old Kingston Dik told KNBC-TV.