Four Army soldiers based in Georgia who are charged with killing a former comrade and his girlfriend plotted a range of attacks, including bombing a dam in Washington and poisoning the state's apple crop, prosecutors told a judge Monday.
LUDOWICI, Ga. — Four Army soldiers based in Georgia who are charged with killing a former comrade and his girlfriend to protect an anarchist militia group they formed, plotted a range of anti-government attacks, including bombing a dam in Washington and poisoning the state’s apple crop, prosecutors told a judge Monday.
Isabel Pauley, the prosecutor in Long County, near Fort Stewart, said the militia group of active and former U.S. military members spent at least $87,000 buying guns and bomb components. They allege the group was serious enough to kill two people — former soldier Michael Roark and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York — by shooting them in the woods last December in order to keep its plans secret.
The group allegedly called itself F.E.A.R., short for Forever Enduring Always Ready. Pauley said authorities don’t know how many members it had.
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One of the Fort Stewart soldiers charged in the case, Pfc. Michael Burnett, pleaded guilty Monday to manslaughter, illegal gang activity and other charges in a deal to testify against the three other soldiers — Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, identified by prosecutors as the militia’s founder and leader, and Sgt. Anthony Peden and Pvt. Christopher Salmon.
All are charged by Georgia authorities with malice murder, felony murder, criminal gang activity, aggravated assault and using a firearm while committing a felony. A hearing for the three soldiers was scheduled Thursday.
Aguigui was home-schooled in Cashmere, Chelan County, joining the Army after graduation. He married fellow soldier Dierdre Wetzker at Fort Stewart, according to news reports and interviews with family.
Wetzker, 24, died last year at Fort Stewart while pregnant with the couple’s son. According to Orlin Wetzker, her uncle in Ogden, Utah, the family was told by law-enforcement officials that she may have been poisoned. A call to Aguigui’s parents’ home in Cashmere was not returned.
The prosecutors in the Georgia homicide case have called Wetzker’s death “highly suspicious,” but no charges have been filed.
According to court testimony, the group used some of the nearly $500,000 in insurance and death benefits to buy more than $87,000 worth of military-grade firearms and land in Washington state.
Orlin Wetzker said he knew nothing of Aguigui’s politics.
Ayn Dietrich, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Seattle, said the bureau was aware of the case but declined to comment further.
Roark, who was born in Kirkland and spent part of high school in Marysville, according to The (Everett) Herald, served with the four defendants in the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division and became involved with the militia. Pauley said the group believed it had been betrayed by Roark, who left the Army two days before he was killed, and decided the ex-soldier and his girlfriend needed to be silenced.
Burnett testified that on the night of Dec. 4, he and the three other soldiers lured Roark and York to some woods a short distance from the Army post under the guise that they were going target shooting. He said Peden shot Roark’s girlfriend in the head while she was trying to get out of her car. Salmon, he said, made Roark get on his knees and shot him twice in the head. Burnett said Aguigui ordered the killings.
“A ‘loose end’ is the way Isaac put it,” Burnett said.
Roark’s mother, Tracy Jahr, told KOMO-TV her son died “for standing up for what he knew was right.”
She said her son told her last fall he had met someone with a lot of money.
“My mom’s radar went up just a little bit and I said, ‘Well, who is this person? Where is he from? Where does he live? Tell me more about him,’ ” Jahr told KOMO.
She said the situation eventually prompted him to leave the Army in December. He was killed two days later.
“It’s not real because it can’t possibly be your child that’s been killed. It was devastating. It was devastating,” Jahr said.
Also charged in the killings is Salmon’s wife, Heather Salmon. Her attorney, Charles Nester, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
In a videotaped interview with military investigators, Pauley said, Aguigui called himself “the nicest coldblooded murderer you will ever meet.” He used the Army to recruit militia members, who wore distinctive tattoos that resemble an anarchy symbol, she said. Prosecutors say they have no idea how many members belong to the group.
“All members of the group were on active duty or were former members of the military,” Pauley said. “He targeted soldiers who were in trouble or disillusioned.”
The prosecutor said the militia group had big plans. It plotted to take over Fort Stewart by seizing its ammunition-control point, and members talked of bombing the Forsyth Park fountain in nearby Savannah, she said.
In Washington state, she added, the group plotted to bomb a dam and poison the state’s apple crop. Ultimately, prosecutors said, the militia’s goal was to overthrow the government and assassinate the president.
Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson said the Army has dropped its own charges against the four soldiers in the slayings of Roark and York. The Military authorities filed their charges in March, but never acted on them. Fort Stewart officials Monday refused to identify the units the accused soldiers served in and their jobs within those units.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based organization that tracks hate groups in the U.S., said many of the militia group’s firearms were purchased at High Mountain Hunting Supply, a gun store in Wenatchee, according to Aguigui’s father, Ed Aguigui.
Gun store owner Kelsey Hilderbrand told The Wenatchee World “we are assisting” with the investigation, but he declined to say how.
Ed Aguigui told the law center that he had “no clue” as to the location of the land in Washington state that reportedly was purchased by his son and members of his militia group. “I served my country for 20 years and I honor that, take pride in that.”
According to The Wenatchee World, Aguigui represented Washington state in the American Legion Boys Nation held in July 2008 in Washington, D.C. The newspaper also reports he was among 21 Republicans who gathered in Wenatchee in October 2008 for third and final presidential debate.
“When Obama outlined his health-care plan,” the newspaper reported, “17-year-old Isaac Aguigui of Cashmere said, ‘That makes absolutely no sense.’ “
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.