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Heavily armed man said he was going to gay pride parade

SANTA MONICA, Calif. - Authorities were trying to figure out why an Indiana man had three assault rifles and chemicals used to make explosives some 2,000 miles from home in Southern California, where he told the officers who arrested him that he was headed to a gay pride parade.

A mugshot shows James Wesley Howell, 20. Santa Monica P.D.

James Wesley Howell, 20, told police he was going to LA Pride in West Hollywood, an event that draws hundreds of thousands of people each year. But Santa Monica police and the FBI don't yet know his intentions.

His arrest came just a few hours after 49 people were shot and killed in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, though police said they had found no evidence the incidents were connected.

Still, the incident in L.A. has added to a heightened sense of fear and paranoia in the LGBT community, many of whom described the Orlando massacre as their "biggest fear" made real.

Howell, of Jeffersonville, Indiana, was arrested around 5 a.m. after residents called police to report suspicious behavior by a man who parked his white Acura sedan facing the wrong way. When officers arrived, they saw an assault rifle sitting in Howell's passenger seat, Santa Monica police Lt. Saul Rodriguez said.

They searched the car and found two more assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and ammunition, and a five-gallon bucket with chemicals that could be used to make an explosive device, police said.

Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks initially tweeted that Howell told officers he wanted to "harm" the gay pride event, but she later corrected her statement to say that Howell only said he was going to the parade.

The parade continued as planned, albeit with dramatically increased security, CBS Los Angeles reported. Hundreds of thousands of people attended the annual event.

Howell's father was shocked by his son's arrest and is cooperating with investigators, said Louisville, Kentucky, attorney Bobby Boyd, who represented Howell in a local case.

Boyd, who asked that the father not be identified, told Kentucky station WDRB-TV that the FBI has contacted Howell's family and they are working to find an attorney in Southern California.

Howell was scheduled to appear in Los Angeles court Tuesday.

In Louisville, he was charged in April with evading police, speeding and reckless driving. He pleaded not guilty after authorities say he fled when an officer pulled him over, court records show.

In Clark County, Indiana, Howell was charged in October with pointing a firearm at someone and with intimidation. He made a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty only to the misdemeanor intimidation charge. He was given one-year prison sentence that the judge suspended in favor of strict probation that prohibited him from having weapons.

A Facebook page that apparently belongs to Howell includes photos of the white Acura he was driving. The postings on the page are unremarkable: There's no enmity toward gays or notable political activism. One post says he's signing a petition to legalize marijuana.

Investigators work a crime scene around a white Acura vehicle after the arrest of a man found with assault weapons and possible explosives, who told authorities he was in town for the city's gay pride parade in Santa Monica, California, June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

The page's most recent public post, from June 3, shows a photo comparing an Adolf Hitler quote to one from Hillary Clinton. An anti-Clinton, pro-Bernie Sanders photo was posted in February.

The page says Howell worked as an auditor for a company that makes air filters.

A friend of Howell's, Joseph Greeson, 18, said Howell's parents in Jeffersonville had not seen him for days and that they called Greeson's parents looking for him. Greeson told the Los Angeles Times that he and Howell are in a car club together and that Howell had a gun collection.

Greeson also said Howell harbored no ill will for gays or lesbians.

In California, the gay pride event went on as usual, albeit with increased security. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the arrest at the start of the parade and struck a defiant tone.

"We are here as Angelenos, as the LGBT community and allies," he said. "And we will not shrink away, we will not be stuck in our homes, we will not go back into our closets. We're here to march, to celebrate and to mourn."

Carl Oliver of Los Angeles attends the parade every year. He said he cried after hearing about Orlando, but he never considered not coming.

"This is about love," he said. "We have to show our love and unity."

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