After nearly a year of searching, investigators used DNA pulled from a half-eaten burrito to catch the man they believe firebombed the offices of a prominent anti-abortion lobbying group in Wisconsin.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Madison announced that police arrested 29-year-old Hridindu Shankar Roychowdhury at Boston’s Logan International Airport on Tuesday. The indictment charged him with one count of attempting to cause harm by fire or explosives.
“According to the indictment, Mr. Roychowdhury used a fuel device in violation of federal law in an attempt to terrorize and intimidate a private company,” said Matthew G. Olsen, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
Molly Beck/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters
He made an initial appearance in federal court in Boston on Tuesday. US Magistrate Judge Donald L. Cabell is scheduled for a detention hearing Thursday. Roy Chowdhury’s attorney, Brendan O. Kelly, who is listed as a federal public defender in online court records, declined to comment when reached by phone after Tuesday’s hearing.
Federal agents have been investigating for nearly a year who threw a pair of Molotov cocktails at the Wisconsin Family Action office in Madison on May 6. A firebomb failed to ignite; Another sets fire to a bookcase. The message “If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you” was spray-painted on the outside of the building.
Outside the building, someone spray-painted on one wall, “If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you” and on another wall, a large “A” surrounded by a circle and the number “1312,” prosecutors said.
No one was in the office at that time.
A group calling itself “Jane’s Revenge” claimed responsibility for the arson and graffiti and demanded to “dismantle 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 took place about a week later A draft opinion The Supreme Court is recommending overturning Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion, leaked. The release sparked nationwide protests by abortion rights supporters. Two Catholic churches in Colorado were vandalized in the days leading up to the Madison firebombing. And several days later someone threw up the offices of an anti-abortion organization in Salem, Oregon.
The court formally overturned Roe v. Wade in June, putting Wisconsin’s 1849 ban on abortion back in play.
According to the criminal complaint against Roy Chowdhury, investigators collected DNA samples from three individuals at the scene of the Wisconsin attack. But the samples did not match any profiles in the US Department of Justice’s DNA database.
In time, Julian Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, offered a $5,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest. He accused Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Madison Police Chief Sean Burns of being more interested in sympathizing with abortion rights activists than bringing any suspects to justice.
This past January, police assigned to guard the state capitol building in Madison reviewed surveillance video of protests against police brutality. The footage shows several people spray-painting graffiti on the Capitol grounds. The graffiti resembles the graffiti of the Wisconsin Family Action Office.
The footage showed the two men leaving the area in a white pickup truck, which investigators tracked to Roychowdhury’s residence in Madison, according to the complaint. The police followed him.
On March 1, he pulled into a Madison park-and-ride and dropped off a bag of fast food. After he left, police recovered the bag from the trash can. DNA from one of the burritos 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 Roy Chowdhury moved from Madison to Portland, Maine, this month. He had a one-way ticket on a flight from Boston to Guatemala City, Guatemala, scheduled to depart Tuesday morning when he was arrested, the office said.
Investigators were unable to match two other DNA profiles from the scene to anyone, the complaint said.
Appling had no comment on Roychowdhury’s arrest on Tuesday.
“I am very proud of the tireless and determined efforts of the combined federal, state and local teams to identify and arrest this individual,” said William McCrary, Special Agent in Charge of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Explosives’ St. Paul field division, which runs the offense in Wisconsin. “I am very pleased to see this alleged criminal in custody.”
If convicted, Roy Chowdhury faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
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