Police in Santa Monica, California found weapons, ammunition and possible explosives in a vehicle of a man who told authorities he was in town for the L.A. gay pride parade taking place this weekend in West Hollywood.
James Howell, 20, from Indiana, was arrested in Santa Monica. The city’s Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks reported he told police he wanted to harm people at the gay pride event. She said a preliminary investigation is continuing.
A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department news release earlier in the day stated, “Any possible nexus with this individual and the Pride event in West Hollywood is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” So far law enforcement believes Howell was apparently unconnected to the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Early Sunday morning, police received a call of a suspected prowler who was spotted knocking on doors and “loitering in the area,” according to Santa Monica Police spokesman Saul Rodriguez.
The man told responding officers he was waiting for a friend and he was in town for the L.A Pride festival. Officers inspected his car, a white sedan Acura with Indiana plates, parked on the wrong side of a street with its doors open. The car was covered with insect debris, as if it had been driven a great distance cross-country.
Next to the car was a gas can, some camouflage gear and a backpack. He vehicle was found to contain several weapons, ammunition and five pounds of tannerite, an ingredient which is used to create pipe bombs.
Resident Heriberto Gomez said he saw Howell exit the car, run across the street and hide in bushes about 3 a.m.
“He stood there on the sidewalk near the bushes,” Gomez said. “He seen me and we stared at each other for a long minute, and he got a little shooken that I was watching him.”
The L.A. Pride Festival celebrates the region’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and it kicked off Friday with a musical lineup that features more than 40 artists. The festival culminates today with the annual Pride Parade which is expected to attract tens of thousands of people.
The L.A. Times reported the festival is going ahead with tightened security, and police are looking for the friend mentioned by the suspect. One source in West Hollywood said there was discussion of calling off the parade, but officials decided to go forward with heavy security, including undercover officers in the crowd.
West Hollywood City Councilwoman Lindsey Horvath said in a statement that officials do not believe there is any threat around Sunday’s activities.
“We are hearing absolutely devastating news reports from Orlando this morning,” she said. “Gun violence on the LGBTQ family during Pride Month makes me sick. The deadliest mass shooting in America happened to LGBTQ people on Latin night. While we mourn this heartbreaking loss, we must also rededicate ourselves to the fight for full equality for all people. No one is equal unless everyone is equal.”
“We are here to march, celebrate and to mourn,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said during a hastily organized media briefing.
Garcetti was joined by West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister, members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.
“Our hearts will be heavy but our resolve will be strong,” Meister said. “Public safety is our number one priority and the City of West Hollywood is on heightened alert and is working very closely with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the L.A. County Fire Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
In late May, CBS Local reported the Huntington, New York gay pride parade had been canceled for the first time over security concerns.