“He said he was going to kidnap me and slash my throat and he needed my address because I needed to see the hangman — me and everyone who, something about tyranny,” Whipple told the Wichita Eagle. The mayor indicated to the New York Times that the man also said he wanted to turn him into fertilizer.
The Wichita Police Department confirmed that Meredith Dowty, 59, was arrested Friday night on a charge of criminal threat for allegedly sending the frightening texts directed at Whipple. An investigation is underway and the case is expected to be presented to the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office sometime this week, police said in a news release.
The arrest in Kansas’s largest city follows a disturbing trend of alleged abduction plots involving elected officials nationwide. Federal and state officials revealed this month that they had thwarted an alleged plot by 13 people to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). Last week, an FBI agent said that some of those charged in the plan to kidnap Whitmer had also discussed “taking” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
Since July, Wichita has enforced an ordinance requiring people to wear masks in public. Even though the mandate was extended last month, some in Wichita strongly questioned the need to wear masks in public. At a Sept. 8 City Council meeting, more than 100 people spoke for close to seven hours in opposition to the mandate. Many said they believed that the order is a violation of their religious beliefs or constitutional rights, the Eagle reported.
Kansas has had nearly 70,000 coronavirus cases and 859 deaths as of early Monday. Research has shown, and public health experts have emphasized, that mask usage can help reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19.
Whipple, 38, told the Eagle that the order appeared to enrage Dowty, a retired firefighter who pointed to “masks and tyranny” as a source of his anger. Dowty was allegedly upset at Whipple over what the mayor described as “not being able to see his mother because of covid restrictions on elderly homes.” In Sedgwick County, which includes Wichita, there have been nearly 10,000 cases and 121 deaths, according to county data.
Police said they were alerted to the threatening statements Friday and arrested Dowty hours later. The mayor was read the texts by a detective who had been tipped off about the messages, which were “sent to someone else who knew this person, but also knew me,” Whipple told CNN.
“Obviously, the person was very angry, but also very detailed in what it sounded like they wanted to do. They wanted the address, my address,” he said to CNN. “And also, this threat was more specific about kidnapping me and cutting my throat. Those were what was read to me. They were graphic.”
Dowty is well-known in Wichita. In 1998, he was among the first responders to a devastating grain elevator explosion outside the city that killed seven and injured 10. Ten years later, he was honored by the city for helping to save the life of a police officer who was shot while on duty. The retired firefighter was also a regular act in the local bar scene as a guitarist and harmonica player. Performing under the stage name “Cathead,” Dowty played covers of songs by artists such as the Beatles, the Eagles and Johnny Cash, according to his Facebook page.
It’s unclear whether Dowty has an attorney. He is being held in Sedgwick County Jail on $50,000 bond, according to county records.
Whipple praised the “fast response” of Wichita police in apprehending the suspect Friday.
“Violence is never a way to settle disagreements,” the mayor tweeted. “We’re always stronger together as a City even when times are at their toughest. Tensions maybe high, but we will get through this together as Wichitans.”