A vehicle with explosives and a man in camouflage and armed with a gun were seized in Santa Monica today, hours after a horrific mass killing at a gay bar in Orlando, Fla., and hours before thousands of people were expected at the LA Pride parade and festival in West Hollywood.
Santa Monica police said in a statement that the suspect is 20-year-old James Wesley Howell of Indiana, who is Caucasian. Santa Monica police would not confirm the incident, or link it to the Pride events underway this weekend in West Hollywood. Jacqueline Seabrooks, chief of the Santa Monica Police Department, tweeted: “Man told Santa Monica PD officer of wanting to harm Gay Pride event during arrest for weapons and explosive materials possession.@.” But later Police Lt. Saul Rodriguez said 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.
That reflected what was said in email message to other law enforcement officers from Sgt. Derek Yoshino of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail, who said the suspect said he was headed to West Hollywood for the Pride festival.
“Inside the vehicle, units discovered 5 lbs. mixed tannerite type powder with assault weapons, long rifles, clips loaded and taped together, camouflage outfit, and a security badge,” the message said. Tannerite is an explosive powder that can be purchased legally in the United States and has been involved in a number of deaths.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told City News Service “we are assisting the Santa Monica Police Department with the arrest of an individual,” but would not supply any more details.
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department issued a statement today saying it is stepping up security during today’s Pride events. “The Department’s Operation Center is open and actively managing events surrounding the Gay Pride Parade and Festival in the city of West Hollywood. Hundreds of uniformed deputies are on-duty to ensure the safety of all those participating in this event. 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.”
The security measures included searches of purses and bags at the entrance to the Pride festival and at several bars including Micky’s and The Abbey.
“Our number one priority is keeping everyone safe,” said Mayor Lauren Meister. “But we plan to celebrate LA Pride and stand with the LGBTQ community and Orlando.”