Thu, May 24, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Student arrested over plans to take bombs to funeral

AP , LYNCHBURG, VIRGINIA

A Liberty University student was arrested after telling a family member he had made bombs and planned to attend the funeral of the Reverend Jerry Falwell, authorities said.

Mark David Uhl, 19, was arrested on Monday night on charges of manufacturing an explosive device, Major Steve Hutcherson said. A family member notified authorities.

Officials were still trying to figure out why Uhl made the bombs and what he intended to do with them.

"I do not believe it was their intent to disrupt the funeral service," Campbell County Sheriff Terry Gaddy said. "We do not believe the Falwells were ever in any danger."

The funeral proceeded on Tuesday at Thomas Road Baptist Church without incident. The church on the campus of the university, which Falwell founded.

Gaddy described the five bombs as "sort of like napalm" and about the size of soda cans.

Investigators determined that Uhl had problems with a group that protested at the funeral, Gaddy said. The group, the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, sent about a dozen members who claimed Falwell was a friend of gays to protest across the street. The group has also picketed soldiers' burials, claiming the deaths are God's punishment for a nation that harbors gays.

Falwell frequently spoke against homosexuality, and gay rights advocates have consistently opposed him. A group of Liberty University students staged a counterprotest; it was not clear whether Uhl was involved.

Jesse Benson, 19, of Zanesville, Ohio, said that he roomed with Uhl this year and that both shared the view that the Westboro group is a "sorry, disgraceful bunch of people," but that he was certain Uhl would never have done anything to harm them.

"He had a very, very deep respect for Jerry Falwell, as do I," Benson said in a telephone interview. "Jerry Falwell would not have approved him harming anybody for any reason. Out of respect for Jerry Falwell, he never would have done anything."

It wasn't known whether Uhl knew the group planned to go to the campus, but it had listed the funeral as an upcoming event published on its Web site.

Benson said Uhl was in Liberty's Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program and was studying to become an Army chaplain. Gaddy investigators in Fauquier County were interviewing several people who had been in an ROTC program with Uhl, of Amissville, in high school and may have been involved in making the bombs. One is now in the Army, he said.

Gaddy said Campbell County authorities informed the Falwell family and Liberty security personnel of the arrest on Monday night, and gave security personnel photos of other possible suspects in case any of them showed up at the funeral.

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