MIAMI, OK — An alert motel maintenance worker helped avert an apparent plot to destroy 48 Ottawa County churches.
“I had taken the trash out when I noticed this real nice bag,” said Ralph Smith, who works for Miami Legacy Inn & Suites.
Smith opened the green military duffel bag and found 50 apparent Molotov cocktails inside.
“I knew it was something not to be ignored, and I called the police.”
That call led to the arrest Thursday of Gregory Arthur Weiler II, 23, of Elk Grove Village, Ill., who was staying in Room 127.
Weiler was charged Friday with possession of an explosive or incendiary device and violation of the Oklahoma Anti-Terrorism Act. He remained in the Ottawa County jail without bail.
Weiler had prevented the housekeeping staff from entering the room for several days, said Steve Ballenger, the night front desk clerk.
“We have a policy every three days we go do a visual check,” Smith said. “We knocked on the door, and he (Weiler) answered with no hesitation. He wasn't nervous. He did turn his laptop (computer off).”
The men noticed some materials similar to what was discovered in the duffel bag, and the police were called a second time.
Police said handwritten notes detailing a recipe for making Molotov cocktails and a list of 48 local churches were found in the motel room, according to an arrest affidavit. A hand-drawn map of the churches also was found, the affidavit states.
Weiler was traveling through northeast Oklahoma on his way to Kansas City and checked into the motel Sept. 20, police said.
The motel sits across the highway from the First Assembly of God.
The bombing plot was mentioned in the Sunday service, said Cheryl Countryman, church secretary.
“We didn't dwell on it,” Countryman said. “We just prayed protection over the church and we had extra security in place at the church.”
Also, the buildings where children and teens meet were on lockdown, she said.
Across town it was business as usual at First Baptist Church, said Chris Carlisle, youth pastor.
Nothing about the plot was mentioned during the service.
Police Chief George Haralson said the listed targets were 46 churches in Miami and two others in Fairland.
“He was going to hit two to three churches a night,” Haralson said.
Haralson said a criminal-background check didn't turn up anything suspicious, but Weiler's Facebook page included a posting dated Sept. 25 that stated, in part:
“And I am telling you that I have not opened a bible (sic) in a while, and I haven't stepped foot into a church building in quite some time — and though I may be very lonely right now, I am hoping that someone, and maybe someday in the future, someone will take notice.”
The post also refers to the “Imperial Catholic Church,” Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
Weiler's aunt, Joanne Meyers, told The Chicago Tribune her nephew suffers from mental illness and both of his parents suffered from drug use and committed suicide.
Haralson said he thinks Weiler was acting alone.
“We were very grateful to get this on the front end,” Haralson said.