OKLAHOMA CITY – A 23-year-old Illinois man accused of planning to attack dozens of churches in Oklahoma with Molotov cocktails has struggled with mental illness, substance abuse and grief, said his cousin, who expressed relief that no one was hurt in the plot.
Gregory Arthur Weiler II, of Elk Grove Village, Ill., was arrested Thursday after a motel maintenance worker spotted the makings of Molotov cocktails in a trash bin and alerted police. Officers found bomb-making materials in Weiler's motel room, along with plans to attack nearly 50 churches in Miami, a community of about 13,500 in northeast Oklahoma, according to a police affidavit.
Weiler has been charged under a strict Oklahoma anti-terrorism law put in place after the federal building bombing in Oklahoma City in 1995. The law makes terrorism hoaxes a crime, as well as any effort to plan or help plan an act of terrorism.
"We are relieved that nobody was hurt," said Weiler's cousin Johnny Meyers, who lives in suburban Chicago. "He can get to a (mental) hospital and get proper care."
Weiler's parents both committed suicide, and Weiler has battled "a lot of mental illnesses" that led to his own suicide attempt in the eighth grade, Meyers said. He has been admitted to mental hospitals multiple times, and Meyers said "with his medication, he was perfectly fine and functional."
Family members believe Weiler must have stopped taking his medication before his arrest, he added.
Meyers, whose parents cared for Weiler and his siblings, said his cousin has been out of touch for several years after leaving Illinois, but relatives plan to go to Oklahoma to see him.
Weiler is being held without bail on charges of threatening to use an explosive or incendiary device and violating the Oklahoma Antiterrorism Act. Online court records indicate he has applied for a court-appointed attorney and is due in court Oct. 22.
An affidavit filed by Detective Jeff Frazier says a maintenance worker alerted Miami police after noticing a pile of brown bottles with cloth wicks attached by duct tape in a trash bin at the Legacy Inn and Suites, which sits just off a major interstate. A funnel and 5-gallon red gasoline can also had been dumped in the bin.
While background checks were being done on the hotel's 18 guests, the maintenance worker accidentally walked into Weiler's room and saw Weiler with similar items and a Wal-Mart receipt showing the purchase of other items, the affidavit said.
Police found pieces of paper in the trash that, when assembled, contained directions for making Molotov cocktails, a list of 48 local churches, a hand-drawn map of the churches and an outline of a plan to plant bombs. The paper also described plans to videotape the bombings and noted: "Try to get away with it ... maybe a plan out of town?"
Miami Police Chief George Haralson said authorities have questioned Weiler and his answers ranged from rambling to coherent.
Haralson said it wasn't clear whether Weiler posed a real threat to churches and the community.
"He had the means and the ability to carry this out," he said. "How does one assess the threat?"
A pastor at a homeless shelter operated by a church in suburban Kansas City, Mo., said Weiler lived there for about six months within the past year.
Doug Perry said Weiler showed no violent tendencies and was active in the group's food pantry and various ministries, but he was clearly troubled. Among other things, he blamed himself for his parents' deaths, Perry said.
"I knew he was in a bad place," the minister said. He said he last saw Weiler about three months ago, when he left to take a roofing job in Houston.
"We really, really tried hard to love Greg and put up with his sort of sullen detachment," said Perry, pastor of The Church of Liberty in Liberty, Mo. "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 divisions and advocates for one Christian church in each community.
"We're supposed to be ONE Body and we're supposed to be about JESUS," its website says. "We're not supposed to split off and let theologies and philosophies of Man and personal grudges divide us into little pieces."
Perry said his beliefs are based on Christian teachings and his church does not advocate physical violence or the destruction of buildings. He said it would not support any plan Weiler had to harm churches.
"We've never advocated any kind of violence at all," he said. "This has nothing to do with physical violence."
Back in Oklahoma, youth pastor Chris Carlisle of First Baptist Church of Miami, said the community in the northeast corner of the state is usually very safe and Weiler's arrest hadn't caused great alarm.
"We haven't changed anything," Carlisle said. "We just pray for him that God would do a work in his life. We know that God has a different plan for his life."
Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed to this story from Chicago.