A Madison woman found the RNC pipe bomb in D.C.

After the FBI interviewed Madison native Karlin Younger about discovering the pipe bomb, so did Doug Moe.
FBI poster searching for RNC bombing suspect is next to a portrait of Madison, WI native Karlin Younger in Washington D.C., she discovered the bomb
FBI poster public domain; photo provided by Karlin Younger.
Madison, WI native Karlin Younger was working in Washington D.C. when she discovered the RNC pipe bomb.

At noon on Wednesday, Jan. 6, Karlin Younger, working from home in Washington, D.C., decided to use the lunch hour to do laundry.

Younger, who grew up in Madison’s Bay Creek neighborhood and graduated from West High School in 2002, moved to the nation’s capital about 18 months ago. She’d been working remotely from Madison for the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s FirstNet project, a communications network dedicated to first responders.

Even though she’s now in D.C., Younger has still worked remotely since the pandemic. Her apartment is in Washington’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, just a couple of blocks from the Capitol itself.

To reach the laundry room, Younger must walk out the front of her building and walk around to the back via an alleyway that’s shared with the Republican National Committee building, which is located at 310 First St. Southeast.

“It’s an old city block with the buildings flush together,” Younger says. She started her laundry, returned to her apartment, and then around 12:40 p.m. went back out to put her clothes in the dryer.

Younger closed the back gate and as she did so, looked down at what she thought was a piece of garbage or recycling intended for the cans that sit near the gate.

Then she looked a little closer.

“It was right next to the garbage can,” she says. “I saw a tangle of wires. I looked closer and saw a six-inch pipe capped on both ends. Then I saw a timer that was stuck on the number 20. It was a radial dial.”

Younger peered closer. Was it 20 seconds ticking down?

“Thankfully, it was 20 minutes showing on the dial,” she says.

There is a guard stand outside the RNC building. Younger ran to it and explained to the guard what she had seen, although there was no clear line of sight to the device’s location in back.

“It’s very tucked away,” Younger says. “That may be why this area was chosen. It’s just by chance I did laundry when I did. I don’t think anyone else would have walked by unless they were taking out the garbage.”

The RNC guard, Younger says, radioed inside.

“There’s a female here who says she saw something that might be a pipe bomb.”

Three more security guards came out of the RNC. Younger directed them, then stayed behind at their instruction. She was able to hear, however, when one of the guards said, “Holy s***! It’s a bomb!”

“They alerted the police,” Younger says.

The police response to the RNC was nearly instantaneous.

“They evacuated the block,” Younger says.

Water cannons were used to break apart the device and one similar that was placed near the Democratic National Committee headquarters at 430 S. Capitol St. Southeast.

Younger and a neighbor friend stood outside for two hours at the corner of Second and C streets. Their view of the escalating violence at the Capitol was blocked by the Library of Congress, but they heard sirens and followed the news on their phones.

Ironically, Younger has in her background a brush with counterterrorism. After West High, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, having studied international relations and Chinese. She taught English in China, then enrolled at the University of Oxford in England where she earned a master’s in comparative government. Younger stayed in London for a time after graduating and it was then that she worked for a political risk consulting firm.

“Part of my brief included counterterrorism,” she says. “Analyzing different trends and tactics.”

Younger wrote to the FBI’s tip line on the pipe bombs when it went up last week. “I just wanted to self-identify,” she says, “and offer to give them the time frame or any other details that would help.”

Agents from the FBI interviewed and thanked her at her apartment on Monday.

Younger stayed with friends away from the Capitol the night of Jan. 6, returning to her apartment the next morning.

“Everything feels almost normal except for a huge National Guard presence on every corner,” she says. “And everything is fenced off.”

She adds, “If I’ve learned anything from this whole event, it’s that it’s true what they say about seeing something and saying something.”

Her story, at least, has a happy ending — and even a touch of Hollywood, as Younger points out.

“Even though I’d done some counterterrorism analysis a decade ago,” she says, “what helped me recognize the device was a scene from ‘The Terminator’ movie.”

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