DNA pulled from half-eaten burrito used to charge man with firebombing anti-abortion office in Wisconsin
After nearly a year of searching, investigators used DNA pulled from a half-eaten burrito to capture the man they believe firebombed a prominent Wisconsin anti-abortion lobbying group's office.
The U.S. attorney's office in Madison announced that police arrested 29-year-old Hridindu Sankar Roychowdhury at Boston's Logan International Airport on Tuesday. He was charged via the complaint with one count of attempting to cause damage by means of fire or an explosive.
"According to the complaint, Mr. Roychowdhury used an incendiary device in violation of federal law in connection with his efforts to terrorize and intimidate a private organization," said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department's National Security Division.
He made an initial appearance in federal court in Boston on Tuesday. U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald L. Cabell set a detention hearing for Thursday. Roychowdhury's attorney, Brendan O. Kelley, who is listed in online court records as a federal public defender, declined comment when reached by phone after Tuesday's hearing.
Federal agents have been searching for almost a year for whoever tossed a pair of Molotov cocktails into the Wisconsin Family Action office in Madison on May 6. One of the firebombs failed to ignite; the other set a bookcase on fire. The message "If abortions aren't safe then you aren't either" was spray-painted on the building's exterior.
Outside of the building, someone spray painted on one wall, "If abortions aren't safe then you aren't either" and, on another wall, a large "A" with a circle around it and the number "1312," prosecutors said.
No one was in the office at the time.
A group calling themselves "Jane's Revenge" claimed responsibility for the arson and graffiti, and demanded "the disbanding of all anti-choice groups, fake clinics, and violent anti-choice groups within the next thirty days," CBS affiliate WISC-TV reported. Earlier this year, the FBI offered a $25K reward for information on the attack, the station reported.
The attack came about a week after a draft opinion suggesting the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion, leaked. The release sparked abortion rights supporters to mount protests across the country. Two Catholic churches in Colorado were vandalized in the days leading up to the Madison firebombing. And someone threw Molotov cocktails into an anti-abortion organization's office in a suburb of Salem, Oregon, several days later.
The court officially overturned Roe v. Wade in June, putting Wisconsin's 1849 ban on abortion back into play.
According to the criminal complaint against Roychowdury, investigators pulled DNA samples from three individuals from evidence at the scene of the Wisconsin attack. But the samples didn't match any profiles in the U.S. Department of Justice's DNA database.
As time went on, Wisconsin Family Action President Julaine Appling offered a $5,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest. She accused Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes of being more interested in empathizing with abortion rights activists than bringing any suspects to justice.
This past January, police assigned to protecting the state Capitol building in Madison reviewed surveillance video of a protest against police brutality. The footage showed several people spray-painting graffiti on Capitol grounds. The graffiti resembled the graffiti at the Wisconsin Family Action office.
The footage showed two people leaving the area in a white pickup truck, which investigators tracked to Roychowdhury's residence in Madison, according to the complaint. Police began following him.
On March 1, he pulled into a Madison park-and-ride and threw away a bag of fast food. After he left, police retrieved the bag from the trash can. DNA on a burrito in the bag matched DNA taken from the Wisconsin Family Action office, according to the complaint.
The U.S. attorney's office said in a statement that Roychowdhury traveled from Madison this month to Portland, Maine. He had a one-way ticket for a flight from Boston to Guatemala City, Guatemala, that was scheduled to depart Tuesday morning when he was arrested, the office said.
Investigators have been unable to match the other two DNA profiles from the scene to anyone, the complaint said.
Appling had no comment Tuesday on Roychowdhury's arrest.
"I'm very proud of the tireless and determined efforts the combined federal, state and local team put in to identify and arrest this individual," said William McCrary, the special agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives' St. Paul Field Division, which handles crimes in Wisconsin. "It is very satisfying to me to see that this alleged perpetrator has been placed in custody."
If convicted, Roychowdhury faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
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