A tip about a possible prowler in Santa Monica led to the arrest Sunday of a man whose car contained multiple weapons, ammunition and bomb-making materials — hours after a gunman killed 50 people at a gay nightclub in Florida and shortly before a massive gay-lesbian parade and street festival in West Hollywood.
James Wesley Howell, 20, of Indiana, was arrested around 5 a.m. on 11th Street south of Olympic Boulevard, according to Santa Monica Police Department Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks. He was being held in lieu of $500,000 bail, according to jail records.
Via Twitter, Seabrooks said Howell told a police officer about “wanting to harm Gay Pride event,” an apparent reference to the 46th annual LA Pride parade and festival today in West Hollywood. Police Lt. Saul Rodriguez said later, however, that Howell said only he was planning to attend the event, and made no reference to doing any harm.
“He did not make any additional statements saying he was going to do anything further than” attending the event, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez and Seabrooks also insisted there was no known connection between Howell and the overnight mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.
The suspect’s white Acura sedan had Indiana license plates. The location where the car was found and Howell was arrested is about seven miles from the site of the LA Pride parade.
According to Santa Monica police, officers recovered three assault rifles, along with high-capacity magazines and ammunition, along with a “5- gallon bucket with chemicals capable of forming an improvised explosive device.”
The FBI and Sheriff’s Department were both assisting with the investigation.
Sheriff’s officials in West Hollywood also said the suspect did not appear to have any connection with a gunman — an apparent ISIS terrorist — who killed 50 people and wounded at least 53 others overnight at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. But with the nation still shaken by the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, news of the arrest in Santa Monica raised additional concerns about safety at the West Hollywood event, where security was dramatically stepped up.
The suspect’s car “was full of weapons, long rifles, ammunition and explosive materials — not explosives but the powder for explosives,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told KNX Newsradio.
Police officers meticulously searched the suspect’s Acura throughout the day, setting some items on the sidewalk next to the vehicle, including a gas canister, a backpack, what appeared to be ammunition magazines, a camouflage outfit and other rifle accessories. The front of the car was smeared with insect debris, indicating it had recently been driven a great distance cross- country. Investigators towed away the car around 3 p.m.
Unconfirmed media reports indicated the suspect also had Tannerite, an explosives powder made from a combination of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder.
Sheriff’s deputies said a man “was detained in the city of Santa Monica this morning, who was in possession of weapons and other dangerous material.”
“Any possible nexus with this individual and the Pride event in West Hollywood is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” according to the sheriff’s department, which is the city police agency for West Hollywood.
Rosemary Martinez, a lifelong Santa Monica resident, lives a few blocks from where the suspect was stopped.
“I don’t know if there’s a correlation (with the Orlando attack), but one can only wonder,” she said. “We live here, we work here, but there’s always a bad lemon. We’re beachside, we attract a lot of people. Concerning what’s happening around the world, it’s happening here. It’s scary.”
Howell’s Facebook page gave no indication of a possible motive for the attack. His most recent post was from June 3, comparing a quote by Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton to one by Adolf Hitler, with Howell writing, “Sums it up.”
His page also includes a series of photos of the Acura sedan, and it indicates he used to work at Universal Protection Services in Clarksville, Indiana, but is currently employed as an auditor and forklift operator at Clarcor Air Filtration Products Inc. in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
–City News Service