A 20-year-old man is in custody after he was found travelling to a gay pride event in Los Angeles with a car full of explosive chemicals and assault rifles. The discovery came just hours after Florida suffered the worst mass shooting in US history at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
James Wesley Howell, from Indiana, was carrying three assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, ammunition and a five-gallon bucket with chemicals that could be used to create an explosive device, a camouflage outfit and a security badge.
Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks initially said on Twitter that the 20-year-old man told one of her officers after he was arrested that he wanted “to harm Gay Pride event.”
Lt. Saul Rodriguez later said Seabrooks’s tweet was somewhat incorrect:
“It was a misstatement. Unfortunately, she was given incorrect information initially, which indicated that that statement was made; however, that statement never was made. He did indicate that he was planning on going to the Pride festival but beyond anything as far as motives or his intentions that statement was never made nor did any officer receive that statement.”
In a tweet Sunday evening, Seabrooks wrote: “Tweet should have read: Howell was going to event. He’s now being held in weapons & explosives charges.”
Organisers originally considered cancelling the gay pride parade in West Hollywood, but decided against it, choosing instead to heighten security at the event. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement:
“Out of an abundance of caution, we have enhanced our security presence for the event and have tactical units at the ready to prevent and respond to any circumstances. Any possible nexus with this individual and the Pride event in West Hollywood is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
The event’s organisers said:
“We are heartbroken that so many of our brothers, sisters and allies were lost in this tragic attack. Our brave founders made this happen to show the world who we are. We will be loud. We will be proud and we will celebrate in honor of all those lost.”
Howell is currently being held on $500,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday.