Marine reservist linked to military building shootings
By Jerry Markon and Mary Pat Flaherty,
A Marine reservist taken into custody last week under suspicious circumstances at Arlington National Cemetery has been linked to a series of shootings in the fall of military buildings, including recruiting centers, the Pentagon and the Marine Corps museum, two federal law enforcement sources said.
The evidence involves “ballistics matches,” one of the sources said, and ties Yonathan Melaku, 22, of the Alexandria section of Fairfax County to the October and November shootings that struck buildings but did not injure anyone. Melaku, who has been jailed in Virginia on unrelated larceny charges since Friday, was detained early that morning after he fled police who found him in Arlington Cemetery after closing time.
Melaku is scheduled to appear Thursday in Loudoun County District Court on the larceny counts.
Melaku had not been charged in connection with the shootings as of early Wednesday night, said Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria.
Carr and spokeswoman Lindsay Godwin of the FBI’s Washington field office declined to comment on the case, with both saying the investigation into Melaku was ongoing.
After being found in the cemetery about 1:30 a.m. Friday, Melaku was detained by U.S. Park Police, and he told officers that his backpack contained bomb-making materials, authorities said. The FBI said that no explosive materials were found in the backpack or in Melaku’s car, which was found parked in a wooded area near the Pentagon.
Materials were sent for further study to an FBI lab, officials said, and a search of Melaku’s home was conducted. It was not clear where the evidence allegedly linking Melaku to the unsolved shootings was found.
FBI officials previously said that the shots fired between Oct. 16 and Nov. 2 at military sites all came from the same weapon. The shootings began with shots fired into the windows of the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Triangle on Oct. 16 or early the next morning. The Pentagon was hit a few days later. A U.S. Marine recruiting center in Chantilly was hit Oct. 25. Then, a shooter fired again on the Marine Corps museum Oct. 28 and on Nov. 1 shot a window at a U.S. Coast Guard recruiting center in Woodbridge.
In each instance, the shots were fired overnight or early in the morning when there were few people around, and authorities said at the time that they did not think the shooter aimed to harm anyone. They said they suspected the shooter might have been a Marine or someone with a grievance against the Marine Corps.
The FBI reported that Melaku joined the Marine Corps Reserve on Sept. 4, 2007, and has been awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal. He has not been deployed overseas, the FBI said.
Melaku drew the attention of federal authorities after the Arlington Cemetery incident, but he had previous run-ins with Virginia law enforcement.
He was arrested by Leesburg police May 27 after more than 25 cars were damaged early May 26 in Leesburg. Melaku was later released on a $5,000 bond.
On Monday, after the Arlington incident, Melaku was brought back into Loudoun County General District Court on added larceny charges for items taken from the vandalized cars and had his bond revoked. The federal investigation continued while Melaku was being held in jail by local authorities.