Man brings gun and knives into a Virginia church service after vague online threats, police say
HAYMARKET, Va. (AP) — A man posted vague online threats of violence and images of a Virginia church before going inside with a loaded handgun and two knives during Sunday services, police said Monday.
The man was arrested and no one was hurt after officers rushed to Park Valley Church, having been tipped off by someone who saw his “suspicious and concerning online postings,” the Prince William County Police Department said in a news release.
The investigation involved three police departments across two states, beginning with a Maryland resident’s tip and ending with the man’s arrest in Haymarket, Virginia, which is about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Washington, the news release said.
Authorities did not offer a possible motive. But it comes at a time when faith leaders in the U.S. are ramping up security at some houses of worship. In recent years, there’s been a stark uptick in concerning episodes at churches, synagogues, temples and mosques.
Rui Jiang, 35, of Falls Church, Virginia, was charged with threats of bodily harm and carrying a dangerous weapon to a place of religious worship, police said. The threat charge is a felony, while the weapons charge is a misdemeanor, according to online court records.
Police said Jiang is being held without bond. A public defender was listed as Jiang’s attorney in online court records. The county public defender’s office did not immediately respond to an email and a voicemail seeking comment on Jiang’s behalf.
The investigation began Sunday in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County, which is east of Washington. Officers there got a tip from a Laurel resident about the vague threats and church images posted online, police said.
Investigators quickly identified the church in Virginia’s Prince William County and Jiang’s potential home in Fairfax County, which is also outside Washington. But he wasn’t there.
A Prince William County officer who was off-duty but in-uniform while working a detail assignment at Park Valley Church found Jiang’s car in the parking lot, police said. He coordinated with church staff who were already monitoring a suspicious person.
Jiang was detained near the church’s entrance with the knives, handgun and another loaded magazine, police said.
“The accused apparently entered the building through a separate door and had been inside the location prior to being stopped,” the news release stated. “Church services were going on at the time.”
Police said Jiang had a concealed weapon permit and the firearm was not reported stolen.
Investigators got an emergency substantial risk order, also known as a “red-flag” law, which allows authorities to seize a gun after they convince a judge that a person would be a danger to themselves or others.
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