Crime & Courts

Veteran with guns arrested on suspicion of stalking Westboro Baptist Church members

Authorities arrested a wounded, decorated Army veteran after he followed members of a controversial Topeka church and he was found in a vehicle stocked with weapons outside Wichita City Hall on Tuesday, sources said.

In the man's vehicle, which was backed into a spot in the City Hall parking lot, investigators found items including a rifle, a handgun and more than 90 rounds of ammunition, said a source close to the investigation who asked not to be named.

By Tuesday evening, the man, in his 20s, was booked into the Sedgwick County Jail on suspicion of stalking, false impersonation and driving with a revoked license, records showed.

Sheriff Bob Hinshaw declined to comment on any items in the man's vehicle but confirmed that sheriff's detectives arrested the man after a detective saw his vehicle following members of Westboro Baptist Church. The church protests at soldiers' funerals, claiming that war deaths are God's way of punishing the nation for immorality and for tolerance of abortion and homosexuality.

A church spokesman could not be reached Tuesday night.

Sources said the man arrested is a veteran who suffered severe wounds when an improvised bomb exploded in Afghanistan.

Hinshaw gave this account:

Two sheriff's detectives were among the law enforcement personnel helping to observe a protest by Westboro members Tuesday morning at Mulvane High School.

"Everything seemed to be peaceful," Hinshaw said.

On the way back to the Sedgwick County Courthouse, one of the detectives saw a vehicle "persistently staying behind" a vehicle carrying the Westboro protesters. "It didn't look right to him," considering the controversy surrounding Westboro, Hinshaw said.

Based on "reasonable suspicion," the detective stopped the vehicle on K-15, Hinshaw said. The driver said he was helping to protect the Westboro group and was with the group, Hinshaw said. The detective let the driver go on.

Later, when the detective contacted members of the Westboro group, they said the driver was not with them. They told the detective they were headed to City Hall to meet with Wichita police officials.

Acting on the group's information, the detective stopped the man's vehicle a second time in downtown Wichita. The man showed an ID and told the detective he was a reserve law enforcement officer in another county, Hinshaw said.

At the courthouse, the detective checked records and found that the man was driving with a revoked license, and learned from officials in the man's home county that the man was not a reserve officer.

Based on that information, the detective and a couple other detectives went across the street to City Hall to see if the driver was there.

"And sure enough, he was," Hinshaw said.

It was mid-morning. The detectives found the man in his vehicle, backed into a spot south of the City Hall parking garage, Hinshaw said.

They arrested him and secured the vehicle.

A law enforcement official in the man's home town said he is considered a hero there because of his service and sacrifice in the war.

"It's shocking that this is even happening," the official said of the arrest.

The man "seemed just like a likable, good person ... who loves and cares for his country and the laws of his country," the official said.

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