MIAMI, Okla. — A bright green duffel bag caught maintenance worker Ralph Smith's eye as he emptied trash in a bin at motel just off a major interstate in northeast Oklahoma.
Curious, he unzipped it. Inside were a pile of brown bottles with cloth wicks attached by duct tape. Then he noticed an empty gas can in the bin, and a co-worker remembered seeing a motel guest with it two days earlier.
They quickly reported their observations to police, leading to the arrest of a 23-year-old Illinois man who authorities say planned to attack dozens of churches with Molotov cocktails. Gregory Arthur Weiler II, 23, of Elk Grove Village, Ill., has been charged with threatening to use an explosive or incendiary device and violating the Oklahoma Antiterrorism Act.
"I don't feel like I'm a hero or anything like that," Smith told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "We were doing it because we want the public to know people can stay here and this is not a bad place."
Maintenance worker Steve Ballenger said he saw Weiler with the gas can two days earlier and Weiler explained that he had run out of gas in his car.
After Smith discovered the gas can and bag in the trash bin on Thursday, the two pretended to be cleaning and went into Weiler's room. There, they found more duct tape, nylon and other items.
Motel owner Ishver Patel said he considers it "lucky" that Weiler was caught.
"He might have blown up here and innocent people get hurt," Patel said.
Police said in an affidavit that along with bomb-making materials, they found pieces of paper in Weiler's room that when assembled, contained directions for making Molotov cocktails, a list of 48 local churches and an outline of a plan to plant bombs at the churches.
Weiler, who is being held without bail, has applied for a court-appointed attorney.
His cousin, Johnny Meyers, has said that Weiler has struggled with mental illness but is fine when he takes his medication. Meyers said relatives believe Weiler may have stopped taking his medication before his arrest.
Ministers and others at churches in Miami said they were surprised by the arrest and didn't know why he focused on their town.
"The only thing I can think of is this is the Bible belt," said Carrol Thompson, the secretary at First Baptist Church, referring to the region's reputation for having many churches.
Others expressed sympathy for Weiler, who was raised by Meyers' family after his parents committed suicide.Comment on this story
"Whatever bad experience he had, we don't look at him any different than anybody who needs Jesus in their lives," said Rev. Raymond Frizzelle, of First Assembly of God, which sits across the road from the motel.
At nearby First Christian Church, associated minister Gary Reed said his first reaction was disbelief, followed by compassion for Weiler.
"We pray for him and our heart goes out to somebody that's feeling very disenfranchised and has a lot of anger and resentment toward the church and our faith tells us we have to have compassion," Reed said.
Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed to this story from Chicago.