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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Massachusetts

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

East Longmeadow Man Charged with Attempted Arson at Longmeadow Assisted Living Residential Facility

Incendiary device was placed at entrance of Ruth’s House, a Jewish-sponsored assisted living residential facility

BOSTON – An East Longmeadow man was arrested today and charged in connection with attempted arson at a Longmeadow assisted living residential facility.

John Michael Rathbun, 36, was charged in a criminal complaint in federal court in Springfield with two counts of attempted arson. Rathbun will make an initial appearance via videoconference before Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson.

“In times of national crisis, hatred based on religion often blossoms into violence,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “The charges in this case allege that the defendant tried to blow up a Jewish assisted living residence with a five gallon gas canister, at the same time that the facility was being discussed on white supremacist online platforms. We will find, investigate and aggressively prosecute anyone engaged in this kind of mayhem.  I also extend my thanks to the Longmeadow Police Department for its help with this investigation.”

“As alleged, John Rathbun placed a homemade incendiary device near the entrance of a Jewish assisted living facility, located within a short distance of three Jewish temples, a Jewish private school, and a Jewish Community Center,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “This case highlights the very real threat posed by racially motivated violent extremists and make no mistake, the FBI will use every investigative tool available, along with the expertise and skills of our partners on our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, to identify, assess and disrupt threats like this one to keep our communities safe.”

According to the criminal complaint, on April 2, 2020, police discovered a homemade incendiary device at the entrance of Ruth’s House, a Jewish-sponsored assisted living residential facility for seniors of all faiths, located on Converse Street in Longmeadow. The device was located within feet of a widely used pedestrian walkway and approximately 50 yards from the Ruth’s House facility. Ruth’s House is located within one square mile of several other Jewish facilities, including three Jewish temples, a Jewish private school and a Jewish Community Center. 

It is alleged that the incendiary device consisted of a five-gallon plastic Scepter gas canister, filled with liquid believed to be flammable gasoline, with burnt paper (later identified as a Christian religious pamphlet) placed in the nozzle of the canister. A portion of the pamphlet was charred and appeared to have been lit on fire in an attempt to ignite the gas. Law enforcement observed what appeared to be blood stains on the canister handle and on the pamphlet. On or about April 9, 2020, it was determined that samples of the stains on the canister and the pamphlet were linked to Rathbun’s DNA profile.

In March 2020, a white supremacist organization that operated on two social media platforms was identified by law enforcement. On these platforms, users promoted mass killings in the United States and elsewhere directed against religious, racial and ethnic minorities; discussed plans to engage in these crimes themselves; discussed using various explosive and incendiary devices, including improvised devices commonly known as “Molotov cocktails”;  and identified targets, such as mosques and synagogues. 

On or about March 4, 2020, a user on the first social media platform specified two choices for mass killings, including “that jew nursing home in longmeadow massachusetts.” The organization’s form on the second platform included a calendar in which users could create events that listed the dates, times, and locations; invite other users to attend the event; and communicate concerning the event. The calendar listed the following entries: April 2, 2020 - “hating niggers day”; and April 3, 2020 - “jew killing day.” The calendar entry for “jew killing day” listed the event location as “Jew Nursery Home” without a specifying address. It is alleged that the user who identified the Jewish nursing home in Longmeadow, and the user who created the April 3 calendar entry, are likely the same individual.

Anyone with questions or information about this case can contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office at 888-221-6023.   

The charge of attempting to transport or receive explosive devices in interstate or foreign commerce with the knowledge or intent that the device will be used to kill, injure, or intimidate any individual or unlawfully to damage or destroy any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charge of attempting to maliciously damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.     

U.S. Attorney Lelling and FBI Boston SAC Bonavolonta made the announcement today. The investigation was led by the FBI’s Western Massachusetts Joint Terrorism Task Force with valuable assistance also provided by the Longmeadow and East Longmeadow Police Departments and the Massachusetts State Police. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow of Lelling’s Springfield Branch Office is prosecuting the case. 

The details contained in the complaint are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. 

Updated March 4, 2021