by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
As if LGBTQ folks needed yet another reminder on Sunday, June 12, the day America learned of the horror that occurred at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., a similar massacre was avoided in Santa Monica, Calif., where police found loaded assault rifles, rounds of ammunition, and 25 pounds of explosive chemicals in a white Acura sedan belonging to James Wesley Howell.
Howell, a self-described sociopath, said he was on his way to L.A. Pride. Authorities say he also had a Taser, handcuffs, a buck knife, a canister of gasoline, a security badge, and a black hood.
'I cannot in good conscience think of any reasonable reason that somebody would be traveling across the country with all of these things,' said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Keith Schwartz, who set bail at $2 million at a hearing on Tuesday.
Howell, 20, amazingly pleaded not guilty to three felony weapons counts. However, court documents show that he also faces a string of charges from earlier incidents in his home state of Indiana when, on Wednesday, Howell was charged with sexually abusing a young girl in Clark County last month and threatening to kill himself and members of his victim's family.
While there are not many similarities between Omar Mateen, the man who committed the horrific attack in Orlando, and Howell, the fact that they both targeted the LGBTQ community during Pride month, and that they are two deeply disturbed people suffering from obvious mental health problems, is enough for the LGBTQ community to feel on edge as many Pride celebrations (San Francisco, New York City, and Seattle included) have yet to happen.
According to authorities, Howell told someone close to the sexual abuse victim he was 'a sociopath with an automatic' and threatened to kill police if they tried to arrest him.
Investigators say he fled Indiana and headed toward California when he believed his capture for the molestation was imminent.
Questions about Howell's sexual orientation, such as with Mateen, and how the two men dealt with it in their lives, are begging for answers. Just like the Orlando killer, Howell had same-sex relations in his past. In fact, police say that last October, an ex-boyfriend accused Howell of pointing a rifle at him and threatening to pull the trigger - though no arrest was made. The following day he was accused of pointing a loaded handgun at a neighbor, although that time Howell was arrested. Police say he agreed to forfeit his weapons and plead guilty to a misdemeanor intimidation charge, and he was then free to go home.
In February of this year, he was pulled over for going more than 100 mph in a 55-mph zone. And when the patrolman approached the car Howell sped off - injuring the officer. Howell is said to have shared video of the incident with his friends.
The Indiana Star reports Howell was discovered on Sunday with the following: Twenty-five pounds of Shoc-Shot, an explosive used for blowing up targets (the two components needed to make it explosive had been mixed); an Anderson Manufacturing AM-115 .223-caliber rifle (the rifle had a round in its chamber and additional rounds in a 30-round magazine attached to it, and a second 30-round magazine was taped to the rifle); a .30-06 bolt-action rifle with a round in its chamber; and a .22-caliber Ruger semi-automatic.
As of press time, it's not clear where Howell obtained the weapons or whether he did so legally. Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney said he believed the weapons were purchased by Howell's father.
Friends say Howell never made any threats toward the LGBT community. However, an ex-boyfriend maintains that Howell wasn't open about his sexuality.
'He didn't like anybody to know about it,' said Zach Hambrick, 17, who met Howell on a dating app.
Their relationship allegedly ended quickly and the two haven't spoken in months.
Hambrick said Howell acted violent toward him when the relationship wasn't going well and admitted that he wasn't surprised about Howell's arrest in Santa Monica.
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