Residents alert L.A. police to heavily armed man bound for gay pride parade

Police do not know the intentions of the Indiana man found with three assault rifles, high-powered magazines, ammunition, and explosive-making chemicals. 

Richard Vogel/AP
Los Angeles County Sheriff's department motorcycle deputies ride along a street in West Hollywood, Calif., during the Gay Pride Parade on Sunday. A heavily armed man arrested in Southern California told police he was in the area for West Hollywood's gay pride parade.

A man armed with three assault rifles, ammunition, and chemicals that can be used for explosives, and who said he was headed to Los Angeles's gay pride parade, was arrested early Sunday, after it was reported a suspected prowler knocked on the door and windows of a home in Santa Monica.

Police found James Wesley Howell of Jeffersonville, Ind., in his sedan in the seaside neighborhood just outside of Los Angeles, a few hours after a gunman opened fire on a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing at least 50 people and wounding 53 others. The attack is the worst mass shooting in the country's history, ahead of those on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007 and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Police have not found any connection between Mr. Howell and the Orlando suspect, Omar Saddiqui Mateen. As of Sunday, police were not aware of Howell's "intentions" for the cache of assault rifles, ammunition, and chemicals, as well as the camouflage clothing all in his possession, said a Santa Monica Police Department spokesman.

As the police and Federal Bureau of Investigation searches for answers, the solidarity among the city, its LGBT community, and the country stands stark, as people come together in the wake of a tragedy to celebrate each other.

"We are here as Angelenos, as the LGBT community and allies," said Mayor Eric Garcetti, at the Los Angeles Pride parade. "And we will not shrink away, we will not be stuck in our homes, we will not go back into our closets. We're here to march, to celebrate and to mourn."

Howell was arrested at about 5 a.m., after residents reported suspicious behavior by a man who parked his sedan the wrong way. They said the man knocked on the windows and doors of a home. When police arrived, they found Howell sitting in a sedan with Indiana license plates, and an assault rifle in the passenger seat. When police searched the vehicle, they found two more assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and ammunition, and a five-gallon bucket with chemicals "capable of forming an improvised explosive device," according to police.

Initially said he planned to look for a friend at the L.A. Pride celebration in West Hollywood, about 10 miles east of Santa Monica, Calif., according to the Los Angeles Times. Beyond this statement, police said they found no connection between Howell and the Mr. Mateen, the Orlando shooter, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call moments before the attack.

A friend of Howell's told the Los Angeles Times that Howell harbored no ill will toward gays and lesbians. In fact, Howell considered himself bisexual, the friend said. But Howell's cache of weapons, in particular assault rifles and ammunition, are concerning to law enforcement because of the types of terror attacks the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations encourage, as the the Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass reported on Sunday: 

Specifically, terrorists are increasingly favoring using guns instead of explosives, experts say, and choosing 'soft targets' – confined areas crowded with civilians like concert halls, clubs, shopping malls or sports events – instead of 'hard targets' like military or government facilities. Soft targets typically have weak security, and they can have an impact far beyond the attack itself given that they happen in everyday places.

Moreover, attacks on soft targets can be difficult to prevent, experts say.

Although officials in Los Angeles considered canceling the parade, which drew a crowd of thousands, they ultimately opted for extra security. The tone at the parade was both celebratory and mournful, and began with a moment of silence.

Carl Oliver, an Angeleno who attends L.A. Pride very year, said he never considered not attending the parade.

"This is about love," he told the Associated Press. "We have to show our love and unity."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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