TUPELO, Miss. – A man who's known for flying a 4-foot-long Mississippi state flag on his car has been accused of bombing a Walmart in Tupelo because the chain stopped selling the flag, the police chief said Monday.
The explosive made a loud bang but did no damage when it was thrown early Sunday into the 24-hour Walmart, Police Chief Bart Aguirre said Monday. He said bomb technicians reported that the package held enough explosive material to damage the store if it had been assembled differently.
Marshall E. Leonard of Tupelo, a northeast Mississippi city of 34,500, was jailed on a charge of detonating an explosive, and police were searching his car and home, Aguirre said.
"He's a strong supporter of keeping that flag flying. ... This is his way of bringing attention to that"
- Bart Aguirre, police chief
Walmart is among retailers that stopped selling merchandise bearing reproductions of the Confederate battle flag — which makes up the upper left section of the Mississippi state flag — after the June 17 killing of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Some Mississippi cities and institutions also have stopped flying the state flag.
"He's a strong supporter of keeping that flag flying. ... This is his way of bringing attention to that," Aguirre said.
Leonard did not yet have an attorney who could comment Monday, Aguirre said. His bond hearing probably will be held Tuesday, and the judge will appoint an attorney if Leonard, who lives alone and has no job, cannot afford one, the police chief said.
Aguirre says Leonard allegedly lit a newspaper-wrapped package and threw it into the store around 1:30 a.m. Sunday.
"An employee was sitting in the vestibule taking a break," Aguirre said. "He told the employee to run — that he was going to blow the place up. He throws this package into the front entrance of Walmart. He flees and the employee flees."
He said Leonard's silver Mazda is bedecked with stickers of the Mississippi state flag and the Confederate battle flag, and it sports a big state flag on a flexible pole. Leonard was arrested about 2 a.m. for running a red light near the Walmart, Aguirre said.