Authorities in Santa Monica found possible explosives as well as a cache of weapons and ammunition Sunday in the car of a man who told them he planned to look for a friend at the L.A. Pride festival in West Hollywood, a law enforcement source said.
Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said on Twitter that the suspect told one of her officers after he was arrested that he wanted “to harm Gay Pride event.” But she did not provide any details, and officials said they are still trying to sort out his motives.
Seabrooks identified him as James Howell of Indiana. A Facebook page for someone with the same name in Indiana shows a young man posing next to a white Acura similar to the one found in Santa Monica with the weapons and explosives.
Federal and local law enforcement decided against canceling the annual parade, which went forward Sunday morning under tightened security. Investigators are now trying to piece together what happened but said they don’t believe there is any connection between the incident and the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that killed at least 50 people overnight.
Early Sunday, Santa Monica police received a call about a suspected prowler near Olympic Boulevard and 11th Street. Patrol officers responded and encountered an individual who told officers he was waiting for a friend, according to a law enforcement source familiar with details of the arrest. That led officers to inspect the car and find several weapons — including three rifles, one of them an “assault rifle” — and a lot of ammunition as well as tannerite, an ingredient that could be used to create a pipe bomb, said the source. The car had Indiana plates.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said the suspect told police he was going to the Pride parade to look for a friend. Authorities are looking for that individual.
Santa Monica police spokesman Saul Rodriguez said detectives are “not aware of what the suspect’s intentions were at this point.”
Neighbors called police after he was spotted knocking on doors and “loitering in the area,” Rodriguez said.
Santa Monica police continued to search the suspect’s white Acura on Sunday morning. All four of the car’s doors were open and a green blanket, red gasoline canister and several other smaller items were being piled on the sidewalk next to it.
One source in West Hollywood said there was discussion of calling off the parade but that officials decided to go forward, with heavy security including undercover officers in the crowd.
The sources spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.
“They found him with weapons that were very disconcerting,” said one source, adding officials are “taking the appropriate safety precautions.”
The parade comes hours after the attack at the Orlando club. In addition to those killed, at least 53 were injured in the deadliest shooting in modern American history after a gunman took hostages. The gunman, who was killed in a shootout with police, has been identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, a U.S. law enforcement official said.
West Hollywood City Councilwoman Lindsey Horvath said in a statement that Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials were stepping up security efforts around Sunday’s parade and other festivities. But she said officials do not believe there is any threat around Sunday’s activities.
The parade began around 10:45 a.m. Usually a joyful affair, this event was colored by the Orlando violence and the Santa Monica arrest.
Emma Samuels, 16, stood at Crescent Heights and Santa Monica boulevards with a group of friends, wearing a rainbow tutu.
She had heard about what happened in Florida when her mother called her Sunday morning, as soon as she arrived at the parade. “She told me and said, ‘I hope you’re safe, sweetie, I love you and let me know that you’re OK,'” she said. Her friend Nicki Genco-Kamin, 18, stood with her, a “No H8” temporary tattoo on his left cheek: “I feel like it’s all the more reason to come out. That’s trying to push us back. This is showing we’re still here, we’re still going to take a stand,” he said.
The group said that a sense of worry was there, but stressed the importance of turning out.
“That’s exactly why we’re here, to be like, ‘I’m proud of who I am. I don’t care if you hate me, I’m going to love myself,'” Samuels said.
“Life is short anyways,” Genco-Kamin said. “Spend it being authentic to yourself.”
“Gun violence on the LGBTQ family during Pride Month makes me sick,” Horvath said. “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.”
A reporter for ProPublica tweeted out a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department bulletin detailing the arrest.