Crime & Courts

A helpful neighbor. A proud father. A farmer’s kid. And, the FBI says, terrorists.

Neighbor talks about Kansas terrorist suspect

Patsy Walden of Liberal talks about Gavin Wright, one of three Kansas men accused of devising a terrorist plot to kill and injure Somali Muslim immigrants living in Garden City. ( Oliver Morrison / The Wichita Eagle )
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Patsy Walden of Liberal talks about Gavin Wright, one of three Kansas men accused of devising a terrorist plot to kill and injure Somali Muslim immigrants living in Garden City. ( Oliver Morrison / The Wichita Eagle )

By Saturday, two wooden boards had been nailed across the front and back doors of the mobile home that, until last week, Gavin Wright called home. Neighbors had watched on Friday as law enforcement with armored vehicles stormed the building, with two officers walking the perimeter.

But by Saturday, the only movement was the flies in the windows and the wasps swarming the walls outside. Shelves near one of the windows were filled with sacks of sugar, saltine crackers and other nonperishable food.

At the end of the driveway sat a broken-down motor home. Inside the door were nine more crates of canned goods and six large white buckets with intricate labels, scribbled in black marker, of what kind of food was inside. One bucket read: 1 pk. brown gravy mix, 6 turkey stuffing, 3 herb stuffs, 1 powder cheese pie, 4 cornmeal mix, 16 can chicken breast, 8 single hot cocoa pks, 2 hamburger helpers, 2 pepper seeds, 1 okra seeds, 1 wheat seeds.

The driveway was filled with detritus – a metal trailer painted in a camouflage pattern, a covered up Harley-Davidson motorcycle, roofing shingles, rebar, a broken basketball hoop, a motorized bike in disrepair, a mattress and a broken door.

That was not so unusual out there, according to Mary Allen, who sold Wright the property. Mary Allen is not related to suspect Curtis Allen.

“Have you seen this area?” she joked. Several properties she used to care for have become overrun with junk after being sold.

At a trash bin in the driveway next to the road was an empty box with a return label from NBC Gas Masks that was dated Sept. 14. Wright had met with Patrick Eugene Stein and Curtis Wayne Allen at this house on Sept. 11 to plan an attack on Muslim immigrants in Garden City, according to an affidavit filed by the FBI.

Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall announced Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, a major federal investigation stopped a domestic terrorism plot by a militia group to detonate a bomb at a Garden City apartment complex where a number of Somalis live. (video by Jaim

FBI affidavit: “The investigation to date has revealed that (Kansas Security Force)/Crusaders members Patrick STEIN, Curtis ALLEN, and Gavin WRIGHT are conspiring to carry out a domestic terrorist attack by using an improvised explosive device (IED) to destroy an apartment complex located at 312 West Mary Street, Garden City, Kansas, which contains a mosque and is home to many Muslims.”

Curtis Allen

When Curtis Allen and his girlfriend moved next to Joel Hernandez in a mobile home park in Liberal about two or three years ago, Hernandez thought that they were nice. Allen would walk around the neighborhood in the evenings with his girlfriend, and she could sometimes be seen smoking on the porch.

Hernandez’s parents spoke little English, but Allen and Hernandez’s dad mowed each other’s lawns and helped each other with painting jobs. Allen brought them fruits and vegetables.

During the super-moon last summer, Allen let Hernandez, 21, and his friends look through his large telescope. A couple of months ago Allen showed Hernandez Saturn and Jupiter.

Allen asked Hernandez to work for him in his home alarm business, but Hernandez preferred his job as a librarian assistant at a nearby school.

When Hernandez’s parents had marital problems, he talked to Allen.

So when police cars showed up in force last week, Hernandez was caught off guard. “That’s the person I least expected,” he said. “I never thought they were bad people. They were very nice.”

FBI affidavit: “ALLEN stated that he could make the explosives and mentioned aluminum powder and ammonium nitrate, among other components.”

But looking back on things, Hernandez did have one concern. Allen had put up a Donald Trump campaign sign in their predominantly Latino neighborhood. Hernandez never heard Allen say anything bad about immigrants or Latinos, but he once told Hernandez that they needed to get rid of Muslims, especially the local Somalians who were being hired at National Beef, the largest employer in town.

“They’re taking all our jobs,” Allen said, according to Hernandez.

Hernandez didn’t think much of the comment at the time. He just saw it as a difference of opinion. Hernandez believes that immigrants work to support their families.

“I didn’t take it like he was racist, just that he’s a Trump supporter,” he said. “He has his beliefs, and I have mine.”

Hernandez wasn’t the only one who had heard Allen talk about Muslims. Another Hispanic neighbor who didn’t want his name used out of fear of retaliation had heard Allen express hatred toward Muslims when he had fixed his home alarm system.

“Who are you going to vote for?” Allen asked him. The neighbor said he wasn’t going to vote, and Allen started to get upset. He complained about the government and “Crooked Hillary” Clinton. He said he hated the “Muslims” after the massacre at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla. He seemed like one of those “conspiracy, Illuminati”-type guys, the neighbor thought.

“I think we need to change the subject,” he said he told Allen.

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Allen had asked the neighbor whether he knew anyone who was wealthy. He needed $40,000 to start a solar business, he said.

FBI affidavit: “They decided that they would obtain four vehicles, fill them with explosives, and park them at the four corners of the apartment complex to create a big explosion.”

When the police showed up at Allen’s house last week, on a domestic violence call, they found almost 2,000 pounds of ammunition inside.

Gavin Wright

Gavin Wright’s first wife, Sonja Jones, is not ready to believe he was involved in the plot.

They were together for 11 years, she said. He was so proud to show off their daughter, Lindsay, when she was born and again was beaming with pride at her high school graduation. When Lindsay came out as being gay, Jones said, Wright didn’t hesitate to accept her.

Jones has stayed friends with Wright, and he attended her surprise 50th birthday party last year, where he talked to old friends and had his usual smile on his face, she said. Jones texted Wright and told him happy birthday on Oct. 7, her last communication with him.

Wright posted Republican-based articles on Facebook, Jones said, but rarely talked politics around the family.

“He is just a good person, great father & loves his family,” Jones wrote to The Eagle on Facebook Messenger. “He’s also a people person which is why this is hard to swallow.”

Wright had worked for the family mobile home business, D&H, when Jones and he were married and then at a local meat packing plant.

FBI affidavit: “When the (FBI Informant) mentioned burning mosques in order to boost his credibility with the group, WRIGHT stated, ‘Yeah, during prayer time.’ ”

For the past couple of years, Wright had been intensely focused on getting his modular home dealership in Liberal, G&G Home Center, off the ground, his neighbors said. Wright’s father had started the mobile home business, D&H, in Garden City in 1971.

After his father died a few years ago, Wright’s older brother, Garrett, took over primary responsibility for the business in Garden City, according to a family friend. But according to neighbors of the business, Wright was having trouble expanding in Liberal. They said he complained that the city was hassling him about permits.

There were about 10 modular homes in the street behind G&G, but only one of them, a duplex, had been sold by Wright. He had sold it to a Muslim doctor who rented it out, a neighbor said.

Wright lived on a quiet street in Liberal with his son until about a year and a half ago. He was at work most of the time, according to neighbors, who described him as likable. He helped Enrique Mendoza, who had been hurt in a truck accident, mow his lawn. When Wright was cooking steaks out back, he’d shout hello over the fence.

Wright had a forceful personality, Mendoza said, and wasn’t afraid to share his opinions. One time when Mendoza was changing the oil on his car, Wright came over and told him the correct way to do it.

Mendoza had once tried to dig up and move a water pump in his yard but had been shocked by an electrical line. Wright showed him how to safely move the line. Wright had an electrical business in Manhattan, Mendoza said. Wright invited Mendoza to sell homes at his business last year, and he hired the daughter of another neighbor to clean at G&G.

Wright was tough but caring with his teenage son, Mendoza said. He made him clean or mow to get money. He encouraged his golfing, as his Grandpa Darell used to do. Wright posted photos of his eldest son on Facebook with golfing trophies. He posted other photos of his two sons fishing and bowling, another one of his favorite activities as a kid, according to a family friend.

FBI affidavit: “ALLEN is a close associate of STEIN’s, has been identified as a leader within (Kansas Security Force), and has led meetings of the Crusaders. WRIGHT is also a member of both groups and has been participating in the planning of the attack.”

Then Wright moved into a rural area in a mobile home community across the Oklahoma state line. Many of the homes had cars and junk in the yards or were abandoned entirely, with broken windows and, at this time of year, wasps swarming outside.

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Wright wanted to buy a $70,000 lot from Wade and Mary Allen, but he didn’t have the money, so he bought a cheaper property. He told the Allens he planned to build a duplex out back for his parents and had even laid out the cinder blocks it would rest on.

He was a quiet, unassuming guy, they said. But Mary Allen thought it was strange that he’d filled up the windows with insulation that looked like cotton. Maybe he was a light sleeper, she thought.

FBI affidavit: “While they were discussing these plans, WRIGHT pulled up Google Maps on the computer at his business and began dropping pins on the map at these various locations using the label ‘cockroaches.’ ”

Patsy Walden, another neighbor, said that when she tried to walk her dogs past Wright’s mobile home, he would curse at her. His fence wasn’t high enough to keep his dog in, she said, so he would get annoyed that he had to stand there when she came by. She stopped walking her dogs past his home.

FBI affidavit: “Prior to the meeting WRIGHT researched guides for making explosives and printed off about a thousand pages of this material.”

Curtis Allen

Allen lived with Amy Barlovich and their daughter, Brittny, on Main Street in Ashland, a small town south of Dodge City.

Neighbors said Allen worked at his parents’ motel in Ashland and at a local tire shop.

A very young Brittny would wander over and play with the neighbors’ children.

Eventually, Barlovich left Allen. And sometime after that, Allen left Ashland.

FBI affidavit: “ALLEN stated: ‘We’re going to talk about killing people and going to prison for life. Less than sixty days, maybe forty days until something major happens.’ ”

Brittny didn’t see her dad much after that. There were just a couple of attempts at contact until 2013, just before she graduated from high school. They kept in touch for the next year, until she moved to Texas, but have spoken only a couple of times in the past two years, she said.

Allen lived in a mobile home park in south Wichita for about four years before he moved to Liberal, said neighbors, and kept to himself.

Brittny said Allen struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the military. He enlisted with his twin brother, Kevin, right out of high school. She said she had been told he spent around 20 years enlisted in the military and was messed up in Iraq, but she didn’t know the details.

When Brittny said she was thinking about joining the military, he would advise that she go to college instead, though he told her he would support her either way. He told her he loved her and hugged her the few times they saw each other.

She married a man who moved to the U.S. from Mexico as a child and said she had never heard her father say anything bad about her husband.

“I feel like I just got my dad back,” Brittny wrote to The Eagle on Facebook Messenger. “And now he’s gone again.”

FBI affidavit: “ ‘We need to get some signs made up … I SUPPORT ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION … and then for every one of them that we blow the top of their head off we just put that around their neck.’ ”

Allen posted a “plan” for the “liberty restoration committee” on Facebook asking states to abolish the federal government and establish a new one.

In March, Allen posted a video that starts with: “The time is coming soon to make a choice and we the people we either need to make a stand and make a big loud statement or this nation will soon be lossed.”

In April, he posted a blog titled “I Promise, This Country Will Become a Muslim Country.” In May, he posted an article with a bloody, gruesome photo titled “Muslims take Christian children and behead them, Rape and Kill their mothers, and hang their fathers.”

Of the seven photos that are publicly viewable on his Facebook page, one is of President Obama made to look as if he is angrily burning the Declaration of Independence. Allen posted it twice.

Patrick Stein

FBI affidavit: “STEIN responded: ‘The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.’ ”

The rumors going around the town of Wright, which has fewer than 200 people, were that Stein was preparing for war, stockpiling ammo and guns in a large storage building next to his trailer.

In July, he started a GoFundMe page that said only: “Lots to do with very little time!!!” He was seeking to raise $7,500. The trio had been planning their attack for just after the Nov. 8 election so it wouldn’t affect the results, according to the FBI’s legal complaint.

Stein grew up a farmer’s kid and was a good pitcher on the local baseball team but developed alcohol and drug problems in high school, according to neighbors and a family member. He and his five siblings attended St. Andrews, the local Catholic Church, but all the other siblings left town.

FBI affidavit: “STEIN said:’The only (expletive) way this country’s ever going to get turned around is it will be a bloodbath and it will be a nasty, messy (expletive).’ ”

The Stein family has an impeccable reputation locally, according to neighbors. And according to a statement released by the family’s attorney on their behalf, “The Stein family is shocked and devastated by the news we received last Friday. We do not support discrimination of any sort and have never advocated or condoned violence as a solution to differences.”

FBI affidavit: “During a Zello conference call in April 2016, STEIN stated, ‘Make sure if you start using your bow on them cockroaches, make sure you dip them in pig’s blood before you shoot them.’ ”

Some neighbors said they believed Stein worked for the family farm, others that he worked for the local grain co-op. Others saw that his pickup truck had a “Wide Load” sign on it, so they assumed he drove an escort vehicle for semitrailer trucks.

FBI affidavit: “STEIN wanted to just go do something. He said he wanted to get a .22, go over to Garden City, start kicking in the doors of the Somali apartments, and kill them one by one.”

Stein posted Facebook memes that suggested Muslims had infiltrated the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. On one picture of Obama, it said, “Once you accept that he isn’t on our side, everything he does makes perfect sense.”

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Oliver Morrison: 316-268-6499, @ORMorrison

The charges

Curtis Allen, 49; Gavin Wright, 49; and Patrick Eugene Stein, 47, were charged Friday with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. They are currently jailed on domestic terrorism charges. If convicted, they could receive life in prison.

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