SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Authorities here on Sunday detained a heavily armed man in advance of a major Los Angeles-area pride event, stirring concerns about safety in the wake of the early morning mass shooting at a gay club in Florida.
“A male was detained in the city of Santa Monica this morning who was in possession of weapons and other dangerous material,” the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in an earlier release Sunday. “Any possible nexus with this individual and the Pride event in West Hollywood is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
In a Twitter post, Santa Monica police chief Jacqueline Seabrooks previously said that Howell said he wanted to “harm” the event, but a police spokesman later walked back that statement.
“The correct thing that he did say was that he was here for the pride event, but beyond that, he did not say anything more,” spokesman Saul Rodriguez said Sunday night.
James Howell held on weapons and explosive materials charges. Stated intent: go to Gay Pride event; wrong on initial rpt of wanting to harm— Kenneth Semko (@SantaMonicaCoP) June 13, 2016
The news in California came hours after 50 people were killed and 53 others injured at Pulse, a gay bar and dance club in Orlando. The mass shooting was deemed the deadliest in U.S. history.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families of this horrific attack which occurred in Orlando early this morning,” the sheriff’s department release stated. “While there are no specific or credible threats received by law enforcement for the greater Los Angeles area, our personnel maintain a heightened state of situational awareness and remain vigilant in the protection of our communities.”
Rodriguez told The Post that police were contacted at around 5 a.m. after someone spotted a man loitering and knocking on a door in a residential neighborhood. When authorities arrived on scene, they found him near his car.
“The officers who responded began questioning the individual, at which point they noticed a handgun or weapon visible in plain sight,” Rodriguez said.
Police searched the car and found more weapons and chemicals that can be used to create an “IED-type of device,” he said.
The Los Angeles County bomb squad was notified, he said.
West Hollywood resident Michael Lamar said a contingent of his friends from Ventura, roughly 60 miles away, decided not to come to this year’s festivities.
“They fear that it’s maybe a little bit too risky to come,” said Lamar, 33, speaking by phone from a house party in the area.
Lamar said while the horrific shooting was on everybody’s minds—and though this year’s festivities were marked by the presence of military vehicles — he did not feel unsafe.
“I’m at a house party – they have the news playing,” he said. “I think this will unite people a little bit more.”
While drinking a beer in the outdoor area of a bar on the crowded main drag of Santa Monica Boulevard, Katie Belcher of Burbank said she is from Orlando and used to frequent Pulse, the site of the massacre.
“My morning was spent making sure my friends were OK,” she said. Thankfully, Belcher said, she didn’t know anyone who was caught up in the violence.
“But one of my good friends who just moved here from Orlando found out that two of her friends were dead, and multiple injured,” said Belcher, 32. “So my morning has been pretty serious.”
Mark Berman contributed to this report, which has been updated.