Law enforcement labeled the incidents "acts of domestic terrorism."
In the off-campus incident, a well-known molecular biologist and his family, including two small children, were forced to escape a smoke-filled house using a second-story ladder after a firebomb was intentionally set, Santa Cruz police said. One family member sustained injuries requiring brief hospitalization, and police are calling the firebombing, which occurred shortly before 6 a.m., a case of attempted homicide.
About the same time, a car belonging to a researcher parked at an on-campus home was also firebombed, destroying the vehicle.
The violence occurred four days after a customer at Caffe Pergolesi, a downtown Santa Cruz coffeehouse, found fliers listing the names, home addresses, home phone numbers and photos of 13 UC-Santa Cruz science researchers and professors. Police believe unidentified animal rights activists created the fliers, which were made to appear as "wanted posters." They warned "Animal abusers everywhere beware; we know where you live; we know where you work; we will never back down until you end your abuse." Santa Cruz and university police contacted most of the people on the list to warn them.
Sophie Salama, who answered the phone at Professor David Feldheim's home Saturday and said she lived there, refused to describe what police said was a harrowing pre-sunrise scramble down a fire escape ladder with two young children. Feldheim's name and address had appeared on the flier.
"This is really horrible," she said.
Twelve hours later, firefighters were still trying to restore electricity to the house. The fire burned the front porch and melted the frame of the front door. Police said much of the home filled with smoke as a result of an incendiary device they would only describe as "significantly larger than a Molotov cocktail." A similar device was used to firebomb the car of a researcher. There were no injuries in that incident. Police refused to identify the owner of the car, but that person's name did not appear on targeted list on the flier.
UC-Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal, in a statement, asked the entire university community to be vigilant in the wake of the attacks, encouraging them to report any suspicious activity to authorities.
"These are odious assaults on individuals and on the principles of free inquiry by which we live," he said.
Capt. Steve Clark said Saturday's tandem events are the most serious in a string of events, including an attempted bombing of a Santa Cruz squad car in March 2007, that police believe are related to violent animal liberation protesters. He said they have no suspects in Saturday's firebombings, but have helpful witness statements about the firebombing of the house.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are leading the investigation. They were also called in after another UC-Santa Cruz scientist's family was terrorized. In late February, six masked intruders broke into the home as the family celebrated a daughter's eighth birthday.
"The pattern and string of attacks has been escalating against the research and science community here as well as at other University of California campuses," Clark said.
He called it "unconscionable that any person would commit this act of cowardice and terrorize individuals in the name of animal rights."
Feldheim researches the genetic and molecular processes involved in development of eyesight and part of his research, according to his Web site, involves the "viral introduction of genes into living mouse brains." His work has been published in national journals.
Authorities said Saturday they had called the scientists listed on Tuesday's flier again, and were offering security for those who wanted it.
Professors and researchers at the UC-Berkeley and UCLA have also been targeted, including firebombs in Los Angeles. More recently in Berkeley, nine hooded protesters showed up in front of a toxicology professor's off-campus home, scrawling "killer" in chalk on the doorstep and shattering the window of the home, and a window in a neighbor's home who scattered the protesters with a garden hose.
The Santa Cruz incidents occurred one day after a mass e-mailing by Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (SAEN) highlighting what the group called "mounting violations of the animal welfare act" at private labs in Santa Cruz and Berkeley. Police would not say whether there is a connection between the group and Saturday's violence. Clark would only say they are looking at several animal liberation groups, including SAEN.
The group's executive director, Michael Budkie, said he was in Ohio and that the group researches and highlights public records regarding use of animals in research labs. But he said the group does not use violent tactics and was not involved in the Santa Cruz attacks.
Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, who has been championing legislation to increase civil and criminal penalties in cases where academic researchers are attacked because of their work, said Saturday that he was saddened, and surprised by dual firebombings.
But, he added, violence against researchers has been on the rise and while condemning the acts, predicted Saturday's firebombings likely would prompt legislators to move on the bill.
Contact Mary Anne Ostrom at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 477-3794
Santa Cruz Sentinel reporter Genevieve Bookwalter Staff Writercontributed to this report.