Extensive smoke and water damage in the prayer room at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. Fire damage inside the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. The fire was started in the second-floor prayer room of the center when the room was doused with gasoline and set ablaze. A recently installed sprinkler system upgrade inside the center kicked in, preventing additional fire damage, but with the system and water from fire crews, damage to the center is significant.
Randolph Linn was “no better than the terrorists or extremists” that he said he was fighting against when he drove from his Indiana home to the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo and set fire to the place of worship, a federal judge said Wednesday.
“When you went through that door, you did not attack extremists or terrorists. Instead, you attacked the place where families come to pray,” Judge Jack Zouhary said. “ … Ironically, it’s your own violence that was sinful and evil.”
Linn, 52, of St. Joe, Ind., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count each of intentionally defacing, damaging, and destroying religious property; using a fire to commit a felony; and using and carrying a firearm to commit a crime of violence. As part of a binding plea agreement accepted in court, he will be ordered to serve 20 years in prison when sentenced April 16 and will be required to pay restitution to the mosque.
Linn admitted he set fire to the rug in the prayer room at the mosque on Sept. 30 after walking through the building with a gun to check for people in each room. He said he was motivated to drive the nearly two hours from his Indiana home to the Perrysburg mosque “to get some payback” for Americans who had been killed.
When questioned by Judge Zouhary, Linn acknowledged he personally did not know anyone of the Islamic faith but said he believed what he saw of extremists on news programs.
“I know they don’t believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior,” he told the judge.
“There are others who don’t believe in Jesus Christ,” Judge Zouhary responded.
“They’re not going around killing us,” Linn said.
Authorities said Linn drove his vehicle containing several firearms and three gas containers into Ohio.
He stopped at a gas station in Ridgeville Corners to fill the containers and then continued on to the mosque on Schneider Road. Once there, Linn walked around the building in an attempt to gain entry.
He found a door open and, with a gun in his hand, entered the building and checked all the rooms, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ava Dusten said in court.
After walking through the building, Linn went to his vehicle to retrieve a gas can and returned to the prayer room, where he poured gasoline on the rug.
“He then set fire to the prayer rug,” Ms. Dusten said.
Linn said he had consumed 45 beers over a period of six or seven hours before he “jumped up” and drove to Ohio. He told the judge that he “definitely did not think about it.”
Ms. Dusten countered that about two weeks prior to the incident, Linn had, in a conversation with his 20-year-old son, threatened to burn the mosque.
She added that when he was arrested on Oct. 2, in Fort Wayne, Ind., Linn told the arresting officer, “[expletive] those Muslims,” and that “They would kill us if they got the chance.”
Eight members of the Islamic Center appeared in court Wednesday to watch the proceedings. Mahjabeen Islam, president of the center, said the charges and resulting sentence “send a very loud message to future criminals … that our society will not tolerate hate and violence.”
Dr. Islam said that the community has opened its hearts to those who lost their place of worship and that they continue to meet and pray. The school has also been relocated.
She said that it was “heart-wrenching” to hear Linn speak, especially about his views on the Islamic faith.
“His hate was palpable,” she said. “He pleaded guilty but he didn’t seem contrite.”
Dr. Islam said that most of the 60,000-square-foot building was damaged by either water or smoke. Repairs are to be completed March 31, she said.
In the upcoming months, a full restitution amount will be determined.