Friend who tried to help: Loewen ‘lost his way’

12/22/2013 6:55 AM

02/17/2014 8:13 AM

He thought he was getting through to Terry Loewen.

In June, he had seen what Loewen was writing on his Facebook page. Radical stuff about Muslims and jihad. Really far out stuff.

So Bradford Page said he tried to set him straight.

Page had recently returned from Asia where he said he had seen radical Muslims kill people. Over and over, Page – who said he had worked with Loewen for 11 years and considered him a brother – tried to give Loewen the facts, tried to make him see how wrongheaded he was being.

He asked his friend how he had gone from being a devout Christian, a guy who sometimes brought a Bible to work and knew thousands of Bible verses off the top of his head, to supporting Islamic jihad.

Loewen didn’t give him much of an answer.

“It was apparent to me he had just lost his way, and he wanted to belong to something,” Page said.

Last week, Loewen, 58, was arrested on federal charges that he had attempted to use a weapon of mass destruction, destroy property with an explosive device, and provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. A judge entered a not-guilty plea to the charges on Friday in U.S. District Court in Wichita.

Federal authorities have accused Loewen of trying to use his access to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, where he worked for Hawker Beechcraft Services, to drive a van loaded with what he thought were high explosives onto the tarmac. He is accused of plotting with co-conspirators who were undercover FBI employees, and, according to a detailed criminal complaint, of being determined to wage “violent jihad.”

A quiet man

Friends and one of Loewen’s two sons say that as far as they knew, he was a quiet and generous man, but a follower who had been shut off from friends, leaving only the two undercover FBI employees in his life.

He was also, perhaps, a man still harboring a bitterness toward government and authority in general after being harassed and fired from a previous job and watching his oldest son sentenced to a long jail term.

Beyond that, they can offer only speculation. They don’t know when exactly Loewen became a radical Muslim ready to blow up airplanes and kill people at the airport, as alleged in the federal complaint.

That makes no sense to them, and is not the Terry Loewen they knew. The Terry Loewen they knew is harmless, they said.

“Even today, if for some strange reason he needed a place to stay, I’d welcome him into my home,” Page said. “That’s that’s the kind of person he is.”

Looking back, Page realizes he was the only person this summer who talked to Loewen about jihad, other than the FBI agents. And he was the only one trying to talk Loewen out of committing it.

“I thought I was making some headway until his wife (Deborah) cut me off from him,” Page said. “I would engage him with facts and things he couldn’t dispute, and she didn’t like that.

“She thought it was just a big phase he was going through.”

Loewen’s youngest son, Damien, 24, said his father was a good guy who had a sense of humor and could make people laugh.

“He wasn’t a really serious type of person. He was just laid back and never argued with anybody,” Damien Loewen said.

His father always helped anybody who needed it, even made vehicle payments for an in-law.

Page said Loewen was with him at the hospital when his own son was born and changed the baby’s first diaper.

“That was the kind of friend he was,” Page said. “I had put it on backwards and he showed me how to do it.”

Loewen was a fan of the Wichita Thunder hockey team and often went to games with Damien and friends. When Loewen went to the concession stand for a snack, he usually brought back food for anybody else who was with him, Page said.

Dad grew distant

But Damien Loewen said he began to see his father become more distant, which he attributed to his stepmother.

For the past eight months, Damien Loewen said, he didn’t see much of his dad at all. His dad stopped coming around to visit him, his new wife and son.

“He seemed a little more down recently, more tired. I noticed a sudden decline in everything,” Damien Loewen said.

Damien Loewen said his wife tried to reach out to Terry Loewen on Facebook, telling him he needed to come visit more often. But he said Deborah would not allow it.

Damien Loewen also said that Deborah told him not to bring his wife to her house anymore. He decided not go to his father’s house if his stepmom didn’t want him to bring his wife along.

Since his father’s arrest, Damien feels some guilt over that decision.

“I feel like it’s kind of my fault. It’s like he laid down like a baby …

“I should’ve said something,” Damien Loewen said.

Deborah Loewen, who has been married to Terry Loewen for 16 years, declined to comment for this story.

Friends point to two potential turning points in Terry Loewen’s life that may have led to him to harbor an anger toward authority and government.

One was the bad treatment he received by a boss at Learjet, where Loewen worked before going to Beech, and his ultimate firing from the company in 2002.

The other was the arrest of his oldest son, Jason, in 2007, and the stiff sentence Jason received two years later at a time when he seemed to have turned his life around after prior legal troubles.

Loewen’s firing

Terry Loewen worked at Learjet for 21 years before his recent job.

A co-worker there, Chris Cagle, who worked with Loewen for eight years , said he and Loewen were fired for falsifying records, although he said it was Loewen who initiated the problem by signing a document relating to work that Loewen hadn’t performed.

That followed several years of problems with a company executive who was widely hated by almost everyone.

“He didn’t like us, and we didn’t like him,” Cagle said.

Page, who was a coworker with Cagle and Loewen at Learjet at the time, said the executive thought his workers had a bad attitude, that it was their fault and that he was going to cure them.

Loewen was singled out, his friends said.

“We knew this guy was coming down on him especially hard,” Page said. “For some reason he did just didn’t like Terry. It definitely wore on him.”

Loewen and others filed a number of grievances with the union over the way they were being treated, but that only seemed to make things worse.

“Once you stepped across that line, you became a target that he never forgot,” Page said.

Because Loewen was the most knowledgeable avionics technician at the company and a man who shared his knowledge with anyone, there seemed to be no reason for the boss to be down on him, Page said. He said he is convinced that is what started Loewen’s downward spiral.

Loewen also was angry because he felt that the union hadn’t supported him over the treatment.

“At that point, he was really dejected. He’d been in the union for 19 years,” Page said.

Don Piasecki, one of Loewen’s supervisors at Learjet, praised Loewen as a worker.

“He wasn’t a good worker, he was an excellent worker,” Piasecki said.

Catholic then Muslim

But he also was a follower who did what others told him to do, Piasecki said.

Cagle remembered discussions he and Loewen had about religion. Both were Protestants, and Loewen spoke against Catholicism. Then one day, Loewen stunned Cagle by telling him he had become a Catholic.

“I couldn’t figure out why he swapped Protestant for Catholic, but he said, ‘I’m not getting quite what I need out of it,’ ” Cagle said.

To learn last week that Loewen was a radical Muslim shocked him, Cagle said.

“I still like him as a friend, but I can’t go along with the way he’s thinking. That ain’t the Terry I know,” Cagle said. “Something really snapped on the boy, and I don’t know what it was.”

Loewen and his first wife, Sarah, lost a daughter, Valerie, at age 6 in January 1991. Tim Henry, one of Loewen’s public defenders, said during Friday’s court hearing that Valerie died of a hemorrhage, and that Loewen “suffered from depression for a number of years” as a result.

But Page points to the arrest and sentencing of Loewen’s son, Jason, as having a much more significant impact on Loewen. Records show that Jason Loewen was arrested for robbery and drug possession on Nov. 1, 2001, and has been in and out of jail since.

Jason Loewen was arrested again in December 2007 for possession of a firearm and possession with intent to distribute of 227 grams of methamphetamine. He pleaded guilty to the drug charge and was sentenced in April 2009 to 140 months in prison by a federal judge in Wichita .

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Jason Loewen, 36, is serving time at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., and is scheduled for release in August 2018.

Page said Terry Loewen was bitter about Jason Loewen’s latest arrest and sentence, which he felt was unfair. It was about this time that Page began to notice a change in Terry Loewen’s behavior – a tendency to be more anti-government.

“He probably thought it was quite similar to what happened to him at Learjet,” Page said. “At the time Terry felt his son was making an effort to straighten himself out.”

Damien Loewen said the family doesn’t talk about Jason much. But Jason Loewen and his father were very close, he said.

Sarah Loewen didn’t return a request for an interview.

Radical on Facebook

Page said he had spent 13 years working in commercial aviation in Asia before returning to Wichita last summer. He had been wanting to re-establish his relationship with Loewen when he saw Loewen’s Facebook page revealing his friend’s radical views, so he tried to turn him around.

“He felt he was persecuted, and he related that persecution to how he thought Muslims were being persecuted around the world,” Page said .

But Page said he had been in Pakistan and Thailand and seen radical Muslim insurgency up close. He believed Loewen had it all backward.

“I said, ‘You’re not a part of this, you’re never going to be a part of this.’ But in his mind, that corporate persecution and the thing with his son .... ‘I’ve been persecuted as well.’ ”

Page argued that with his house, cars, jet skis and wealth, how could Loewen put himself into the same category as the Muslims he felt were being persecuted? Loewen, he said, had no answer.

So for awhile he thought he was reaching Loewen.

He said he tried to reach Loewen’s wife over and over, too, he said, but she finally banned him from further contact with Loewen. So he backed off, and Loewen didn’t reach out to him.

Eventually, Page found a job in New York and left Wichita.

“I’ll go to the grave thinking if I was there this wouldn’t have happened,” Page said. “Sometimes you just need a person to be there and listen to you.”

While he believes Loewen probably wanted to die in the end, Loewen did have something to look forward to: being a grandfather to Damien’s son, Page said.

Although Terry Loewen had taken Jason Loewen’s problems “extremely hard” and blamed himself for failing as a parent, he had done a good job with Damien Loewen, Page said.

Damien Loewen agreed that his dad had looked forward to being a grandfather. But he didn’t know whether that was true anymore. The relationship with his father had changed in recent months.

“I don’t know who my dad is now,” he said.

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