The owner of a Danville gun store remains in jail today, a week after he allegedly made threats to blow up Danville Christian Academy and kill one of its students, and allegedly stated he should have killed federal agents who were investigating his business.
Boyle District Judge Jeff Dotson ordered Bennett R. Williams back to jail without bond Wednesday, following a preliminary hearing where Dotson determined there was probable cause to send Williams before a grand jury on a second-degree terroristic threatening charge. Williams pleaded not guilty during his arraignment on Tuesday.
Williams, 55, of 316 Twin Brook Drive, was arrested Monday at his business, B & W Gun Shop on Fourth Street, on a warrant signed earlier that day by Family Court Judge Bruce Petrey charging that Williams had made threats against the school and student last Friday afternoon, just as news about the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., was breaking.
According to Danville officer Sam Butler’s testimony during Wednesday’s hearing, Williams made the threatening comments to another man inside a local machine shop about 3 p.m. on Dec. 14 and the man reported the comments to Butler the next day, a Saturday, while the officer was off duty.
According to the man, who was not identified, Williams said “he should go out to DCA and put dynamite around it and blow that m-----f----- up,” and also mentioned killing “that red-headed one,” Butler testified.
The officer explained that “that red-headed one” is apparently a reference to the son of Scott Barker, Williams’ former partner in the gun shop, who has red hair and attends DCA. Barker’s wife also teaches at the school, Butler said.
Butler said Barker had parted ways with Williams in the gun business, and that departure had triggered an inspection of the store’s federal firearms license. Apparently, there were discrepancies found in the license and federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents investigated allegations of illegal guns or firearms parts associated with the business, Butler testified.
Barker told the Advocate-Messenger his business relationship with Williams ended over two years ago.
The man also told Butler that Williams mentioned at the machine shop last Friday that federal agents were at his home the day before and that he should “have killed those ATF bastards then,” Butler testified.
Special Agent Stewart Lowery at the ATF’s field office in Louisville said Thursday he could neither confirm nor deny that federal agents were investigating the gun store or Williams. He said the agency is not involved in the terroristic threatening case against Williams.
During his court appearance Wednesday, Williams was wearing a spit mask on Dotson’s order. The judge apologized for the “embarrassing” mask — a mesh net over his face with a solid barrier around his mouth — but said it was necessary because Williams allegedly spit on people at the jail. Williams told Dotson he didn’t spit on anyone but understood the precaution.
After Dotson ordered him held without bond until a hearing on Wednesday, Williams tried to make the case for having a reasonable bond set.
“I have never been convicted of even a misdemeanor. The credibility of this is just ... ” Williams said before Dotson cut him off and told him that he would set a bond at Wednesday’s hearing. Until the case is reviewed, Williams is considered a danger to others and himself, the judge said.
The timing of the alleged threats, coming as they did as news of the school massacre in Newtown was breaking, “played a huge part” in determining how the case was handled by authorities, said Danville Police Chief Tony Gray.
“Everyone was on heightened sensitivity,” Gray said Thursday. “Whether it was just an angry comment or a legitimate threat, you just can’t say things like that. That he has a gun shop, there is at least the possibility he could carry it out.”
Officer Butler began gathering evidence first thing Monday morning, including taking a written statement from the man who said he heard Williams make the threats last Friday at the machine shop. Officers monitored Williams’ whereabouts as they prepared a warrant for his arrest, Gray said.
“As we investigated, at no time did we feel the children or the school was in danger,”¿the chief said.
Officers met with County Attorney Richard Campbell and Commonwealth’s Attorney Richie Bottoms to figure out the appropriate charge and then got Judge Petrey to sign off on an arrest warrant for second-degree terroristic threatening, a Class D felony that carries a prison sentence of 1-5 years upon conviction.
Campbell said that even though the Newtown shootings were on everyone’s mind, the mood did not impact the decision on what crime to charge Williams with. He would have been charged with second-degree terroristic threatening if he had made such statements a week before the Newtown tragedy or six months after, Campbell said.
“I just think it’s something where you have that type of situation and statements like that are made, the threat feels a little more imminent,” he said.