The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 8, 2012

Accused plotter eliminated as suspect in mosque arson

From staff, AP reports

MIAMI, Okla. — Miami’s police chief said Monday that a man caught with 50 Molotov cocktails and apparent plans to firebomb local churches has been eliminated as a suspect in a recent arson attempt at a Joplin, Mo., mosque.

Police Chief George Haralson said agents with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives eliminated Gregory A. Weiler II, 23, as a suspect in a failed arson attempt July 4 at the Islamic Center of Joplin.

“They do not believe he was involved in the mosque (arson) back in (July),” Haralson said.

Authorities possess videotape of a man involved in the July 4 fire, which caused minor damage to the roof of the mosque. Images of the man were released to the media and have been widely published without leading to an arrest.

The FBI has declined to say if surveillance video exists from a second fire, on Aug. 6, that destroyed the mosque. The cause of that fire remains undetermined.

Haralson said he did not know how federal agents were able to eliminate Weiler as a suspect in the mosque arson case.

Weiler is being held at the Ottawa County Jail without bond on charges of possession of an explosive or incendiary device and violating an anti-terrorism law that was enacted in the state after the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

He was arrested a few hours after a maintenance worker reported finding Molotov cocktail bottles and other suspicious items Thursday morning in a trash bin outside the Legacy Inn & Suites in Miami. Police officers who were called to the motel discovered a 5-gallon can of gasoline in the bin where the bottles were found.

Haralson said officers obtained a list of motel guests at that point and began trying to figure out which of them may have placed the items in the bin. Before they got far in that line of inquiry, he said, the same maintenance worker reported observing similar items when he entered Room 127 in midafternoon under a mistaken notion that the guest had checked out.

That led to a search warrant and the discovery of various materials linking the occupant of the room to the Molotov cocktails in the trash bin. Officers also found a handwritten document that had been torn up. When those pieces of paper were reassembled, they revealed a recipe for making Molotov cocktails, a list of 48 churches in Ottawa County and a crude map of their locations, with indications of an intent to firebomb them.

Haralson said Weiler first checked into the Miami motel Sept. 20 using a driver’s license that listed an address in Washington, Ill.

Weiler reportedly told investigators that he was headed back to Missouri and caught a ride from the Houston area with two men he did not know. He got into an argument with them when they stopped in Miami.

“They just told him to get out, and he did and checked into the motel,” Haralson said.

Relatives told the Chicago Tribune that Weiler grew up in Elk Grove Village, Ill., that his mother and father committed suicide before he was 16, and that he tried to kill himself in the eighth grade. They said he was hospitalized for mental illness at least six times, and that he has struggled with addictions to heroin and alcohol.

An aunt who helped raise him after his mother’s death said he attended Bradley University after graduating from high school, but got into trouble skipping classes and stealing money from family and friends through a pyramid scheme. Relatives said that about three years ago, he joined a church in Missouri that they described as “a cult.”

A pastor at a homeless shelter run by a church in Liberty, Mo., told The Associated Press that Weiler lived there for about six months until he left about three months ago to take a roofing job in Houston.

Doug Perry, pastor of the Church of Liberty, said Weiler did not exhibit any violent tendencies while staying at the shelter, although he did seem troubled and blamed himself for his parents’ deaths. He said he could tell Weiler was “in a bad place.”

“We really, really tried hard to love Greg and put up with his sort of sullen detachment,” Perry said. “We poured a whole lot of love, a whole lot of time, a whole lot of prayer into trying to help him. I grieve because I really do love the kid.”

Perry’s church opposes denominational distinctions and advocates a single Christian church. Its website explains: “We’re not suppose to split off and let theologies and philosophies of man and personal grudges divide us into little pieces.”

The church does not advocate violence or the destruction of buildings, and it would not condone any plan to harm other churches, Perry told the AP.

Low on funds

GREGORY WEILER was paying about $300 per week to stay at the Legacy Inn & Suites in Miami and did not have much cash left on him when he was arrested, according to the Miami police chief.

MOTEL EMPLOYEES told police that Weiler had been keeping holed up inside the room most of his stay. Receipts recovered from the room showed that he had made purchases at the Wal-Mart store in Miami and at a McDonald’s.