Suspect arrested on DNA from burrito: NPR
Federal authorities say they have charged a suspect in connection with the bombing of the office of an anti-abortion lobby group in Wisconsin – nearly a year later, and with the help of a burrito half eaten.
The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it had arrested Madison, Wis., resident Hridindu Sankar Roychowdhury, 29, at a Boston airport. He had a one-way ticket to Guatemala, the agency said.
He was charged with one count of attempting to cause damage by means of fire or an explosive, according to court documents.
“According to the complaint, Mr. Roychowdhury used an incendiary device in violation of federal law in connection with his efforts to terrorize and intimidate a private organization,” said Matthew Olsen, assistant attorney general for the National Security Division of the DOJ, in a statement.
If convicted, Roychowdhury faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of 20 years in prison.
“Violence is never an acceptable way for anyone to express their opinions or disagree,” Robert Wells, deputy director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, said in a statement. “Today’s arrest demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to vigorously pursuing those responsible for this dangerous attack and others across the country, and holding them accountable for their criminal acts.”
NPR has reached out to Roychowdhury’s attorney, a Massachusetts federal defender, for comment.
What we know about the firebombings
The attack happened on May 8, 2022, about a week after the leaked draft notice suggesting the U.S. Supreme Court intended to strike down Roe vs. Wade (which he did the following month).
Madison police said at the time they were investigating a “suspicious fire” inside an office building on the north side of town, where “it appears a specific nonprofit organization who supports anti-abortion measures has been targeted”.
The office is owned by Wisconsin Family Action (WFA), a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is to advance “Jewish-Christian principles and values in Wisconsin by strengthening, preserving, and promoting marriage, family, life and liberty”.
The organisation’s president told police they expressed ‘their position on abortion rights’ in press releases and interviews following the opinion draft leaked, a complaint alleges of 11 pages filed this week in Wisconsin District Court.
The complaint says police responded to reports of a fire just after 6 a.m. local time this Sunday – which was also Mother’s Day – and found what appeared to have been two Molotov cocktails made at from mason jars.
One of the jars – found broken with its ‘burnt black’ lid and top and a disposable lighter nearby – set a bookcase on fire, while the other failed to ignite and was spotted across the room “half full of a clear liquid that smelled like accelerator.”
Someone had also spray-painted in cursive on one of the building’s exterior walls: “If abortions aren’t safe, then neither are you.”
WFA said in a statement after the attack that the office was empty and no one was injured.
They then accused liberals of hypocrisy and blamed Democratic leaders like Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers for suggesting “that violence is an acceptable tactic to employ.”
Wisconsin officials on both sides of the aisle, including Evers, condemned the attack, as did the White House.
“But did the attack intimidate us? No,” WFA President Julaine Appling wrote. “It has strengthened our resolve. We will fix our offices, stay at work and build an even stronger grassroots effort.”
WFA declined to comment on the arrest on Wednesday.
It took months and a burrito break to find the suspect
The next part of the story involves a lot of forensics and a bit of fast food.
Investigators sent the glass jar and other evidence from the scene to a lab for further analysis, which in turn obtained DNA profiles from three different individuals.
Swabs found the DNA of a man, whom the complaint calls “Male 1”, on the top and bottom of the office glass, the outside of the jar, the lighter and the rag used in the Molotov cocktail.
But that DNA didn’t match anyone already in the national database, which meant authorities — many state and federal agencies — had to turn to other clues.
“For months, our detectives have remained determined to find those responsible for this arson,” Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes said. “When tips and leads were limited, they never gave up.”
In January 2023, demonstrators in Wisconsin traveled to the state capitol to protest a police shooting in Atlanta, and police saw surveillance footage of several people spray-painting on the property’s grounds. capital city. One wrote “We will take revenge” in cursive handwriting that resembled WFA’s wall graffiti.
Authorities were able to track the suspect to a white Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, registered to an address in Madison. Further investigation linked Roychowdhury to the same address.
On March 1, law enforcement saw a person believed to be Roychowdhury driving the truck and checked his identity as he parked and exited the vehicle.
They watched him throw down a brown bag of fast food, then get back in the truck and drive off.
“The contents of the bag included a quarter portion of a partially eaten burrito wrapped in waxed paper, a soiled napkin, a crumpled napkin, a stack of napkins, the burrito wrapper, a crumpled food wrapper, four packets of sauce unopened pungent, and the brown paper bag itself,” the complaint states.
Law enforcement sent that evidence to the lab for analysis and took the burrito for DNA. Weeks later, lab results matched DNA taken from the contents of the bag to the sample recovered from the scene of the fire.
“Because the items were taken after Roychowdhury dumped them, I believe the DNA is his,” Detective Cheryl Patty wrote in the complaint.
Later in March, Roychowdhury traveled from Madison to Portland, Maine. Authorities say he bought a one-way ticket to Guatemala from Boston Logan International Airport and was due to leave on Tuesday.
He was arrested at the airport and made his first appearance in federal court in Boston the same day, reports the Associated Press. A judge has scheduled a detention hearing for Thursday.