LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A heavily armed man who said he was heading to a Los Angeles-area pride parade was arrested early on Sunday in nearby Santa Monica, but there was no apparent link with the deadly mass shooting in Florida, authorities said.
Officers responding to a call from a member of the public found James Howell of Indiana sitting in a car with Indiana plates alongside three assault rifles and high capacity magazines, Santa Monica Police Department said.
He also had a five-gallon (19-liter) bucket with chemicals that could be used to make an improvised explosive device, the police department said in a statement.
“The suspect did make an initial statement to the effect that he was going to go to the pride festival,” the department’s Lieutenant Saul Rodriguez told reporters.
“Beyond that he did not make any additional statement saying that he was going to do anything further than that. We do not have any additional information related to what his intentions were,” Rodriguez said.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the suspect was 20 years of age. Police in Santa Monica, a seaside community west of Los Angeles, said its officers were called to investigate a report of suspicious activity after Howell was seen repeatedly knocking on a resident’s door and window.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, speaking at the opening of the LA Pride Festival in West Hollywood, a small municipality adjacent to Los Angeles, said separately that Howell had told police he was on his way to the parade there. But Garcetti said the arrest appeared unrelated to Sunday’s Florida attack.
Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks also said there was no known connection between Howell’s arrest and the shooting rampage early Sunday morning at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where 50 people were killed and more than 50 others were wounded.
Some of those who marched in West Hollywood carried handmade signs emblazoned with slogans of sympathy for the victims on the other side of the country: “My Heart Goes Out to Orlando,” “Love Not Hate,” and “May Their Memories Be a Blessing.”
Overall, the mood was festive, with rock music blaring from speakers, shirtless men in jeans and cowboy hats dancing on a Flaming Saddles Saloon float, and rainbow-colored balloons and fake palm trees swaying in a light wind under cloudy skies.
Along the parade route, some people stopped and placed Mardi Gras beads and flowers at a sidewalk memorial made up of gay pride flags, white candles and signs on a metal fence that said “50 Lights for 50 Beautiful Souls” and “Keep Kissing.”
Local poet Steven Reigns, 40, said he and a friend, Jackie Steele, put up the memorial to show the people of Orlando that they have the support of a larger community.
“People seem very connected to it,” Steele said. “They stop, take a photo, have a moment of silence. That feels much better than sitting and crying.”
Brian Curley, 42, was holding a placard that read “Praying for Orlando.” The law student, who lives in Ontario, California, said it was his first pride rally and that he was concerned about security after the Florida massacre.
“There is a risk, an inherent risk that growing up gay and in the gay community, I think on some personal level I‘m used to that, that living my life is a risk,” Curly said. “To not come would be letting them win, as far as I‘m concerned.”
Additional reporting by Tim Reid in Los Angeles and Ginger Gibson in Washington; Writing by Steve Gorman and Daniel Wallis; Editing by Bill Trott and Alistair Bell