A 19-year-old with ties to Neo-Nazi “dark web” chat groups has been charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States. The New York Times reports that the former Virginia college student made bomb threats against his former school, journalists, government officials, and the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria. All of which created panic for police.
The calls date back to November 2018 when John William Kirby Kelley was a student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. While there Kelley placed a number of fake phone threats, a practice called swatting, saying that he had a gun and had littered the campus with pipe bombs. That month Kelley also placed a call to a non-emergency number saying that he was going to harm the majority African American congregation inside a Virginia church.
“The caller identified himself as George and advised that he placed three pipe bombs at the Alfred Street Baptist Church and was going to blow it up,” the affidavit said. “The caller stated the word shooting and that the caller was going to kill everyone at the church.”
At the time, the Alexandria Police Department surrounded the church and evacuated all parishioners. They found the threat, which the F.B.I. determined had come from the same web-based phone service account used for the ODU call placed by John Kirby Kelley, to be fake. But that hasn’t done much to calm fears among churchgoers.
“I have often thought about my safety at church, now in light of all these church shootings,” Lauren Epps-Davis, a frequent visitor at Alfred Baptist told ESSENCE. “It is sad but I really find myself coming up with every excuse not to go to church. And the reality is, I do not feel safe. It is something I find myself having to pray about.”