Liberty University Student Arrested on Bomb Charges

LYNCHBURG, Va. -- A Liberty University student who told a family member he had made bombs and planned to attend the funeral of the Rev. Jerry Falwell was apparently upset about an anti-gay fringe group that protested at the funeral, authorities said.

Officials were still trying to figure out what Mark David Uhl planned to do with the bombs. Police do not believe he intended to disrupt the funeral Tuesday or harm the Falwell family, Campbell County Sheriff Terry Gaddy said.

Uhl, 19, was being held without bond in the Campbell County Adult Detention Center on charges of manufacturing an explosive device. It was not known if he had a lawyer, and messages seeking comment left at numbers believed to belong to his family were not returned.

Uhl, of Amissville, was arrested Monday night after a family member contacted authorities, who found homemade bombs in the trunk of Uhl's car, Major Steve Hutcherson said.

Gaddy described the five bombs as "sort of like napalm" and about the size of soda cans.

"We do not believe the Falwells were ever in any danger," he said.

The funeral proceeded at Thomas Road Baptist Church without incident. More than 10,000 people attended the service on the campus of the evangelical university, which Falwell founded.

Investigators determined that Uhl had problems with a group that protested at the funeral, Gaddy said. The Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church sent about a dozen members to protest across the street from the funeral, claiming Falwell was a friend to gays. The group also has picketed soldiers' burials, claiming the deaths are God's punishment for a nation that supports homosexuality.

Falwell frequently spoke against homosexuality, and gay rights advocates have consistently opposed him. A group of Liberty University students staged a counterprotest; it wasn't clear whether Uhl was involved.

Jesse Benson, 19, of Zanesville, Ohio, said he lived with Uhl this year and that both shared the view that the Westboro group is a "sorry, disgraceful bunch of people," but that he was certain Uhl would never have done anything to harm them.

"He had a very, very deep respect for Jerry Falwell, as do I," Benson said in a telephone interview. "Jerry Falwell would not have approved him harming anybody for any reason. Out of respect for Jerry Falwell, he never would have done anything."

It wasn't clear whether Uhl knew the group planned to go to the campus, but the group had listed the funeral as an upcoming event published on its Web site.

Benson said Uhl was in Liberty's Army ROTC program and was studying to become an Army chaplain. Gaddy said investigators in Fauquier County were interviewing several people who had been in an ROTC program with Uhl in high school and may have been involved in making the bombs. One is now in the Army, he said.

The sheriff said Campbell County authorities informed the Falwell family and Liberty security personnel of the arrest Monday night, and gave security personnel photos of other possible suspects in case any of them showed up at the funeral.

Falwell, 73, died a week ago after collapsing in his office at the university. His physician said Falwell had a heart condition and presumably died of a heart rhythm abnormality.

More than 33,000 people had viewed his body over four days as it lay in repose.

A private burial was planned on the grounds of Liberty University near a former mansion where Falwell's office was located.


Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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