A man intentionally broke through the gates of a mosque in Tampa, Florida, a few days before the Muslim’s holy festival of Eid while nearly a thousand worshippers looked on from inside in horror, according to police.
However, the news of the alleged attack slipped through the cracks and only surfaced nearly two weeks later, after the suspect was already out on bail.
Shaun H. Urwiler reportedly drove his pick-up truck into two parked cars before smashing right through the locked gate of the Islamic Society of Tampa Mosque where up to 1,200 people were present to break their Ramadan fast.
"[I was thinking] are my children outside? Thankfully, it was pouring rain outside, and I think that was a blessing in and of itself," recalled witness Aida Mackic, who is also a member of the Council for American-Islamic Relation.
Had the suspect been a person of color or a member of minority community, the reaction would have been quite different. However, the incident went unnoticed.
As the International Business Times reported, the 42-year-old suspect is an Iraq war veteran who, according to his brother, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I apologize on behalf of my family if anyone was scared,” said Neal Urwiler. “This is not something a sane person would do. He's not that person and he's going to get help.”
He also said the suspect had phoned him shortly before crashing his vehicle into the mosque gate, telling him of a dream he had of Iraqi city Fallujah, which witnessed fierce conflict during the war.
Apparently, Urwiler also told deputies he just wanted to “throw a few donuts and wreak a little havoc.”
“He was aggressive and mean. Like he’s mean. He is like [acting like] ‘I am going to do it!’” said another witness Gamal Farag who saw the truck plow through the cars and front gate and decided to follow it. “What you do this for? What make you do this? I don’t understand. What the reason? [sic] In my opinion, God will take care of him.”
The deputies tracked down Urwiler a day later. The reports claim the suspected was erratic and yelled at the officers for about an hour after his arrest. He was also wearing a GPS tracking device around his ankle for a domestic violence injunction.
Police charged him with criminal mischief to a place of worship and violation of a domestic violence injunction — both first-degree misdemeanors.
He caused about $5,000 worth of damage, according to the police.
“We hope that people come inside, ask questions, get to know your Muslim neighbors," added Mackic, hoping the incident would encourage the residents of Tampa to approach their Muslim neighbors and have a dialogue.