A Florida man is in custody on arson charges, accused of setting a fire at a convenience store he believed was owned by Muslims who he “wanted to run out of America.”
As frequently occurs in such hate-motivated crimes, authorities confirmed the business was not owned by Muslims, but U.S. citizens of Indian-descent.
Richard Leslie Lloyd, 64, of Fort Pierce, Fla., was arrested outside the Met Mart on Prima Vista Boulevard in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where a Dumpster had been pushed in front of the store’s doorway and set on fire, authorities said.
St. Lucie County sheriff’s deputies, responding to a report of a “suspicious person,” approached the suspect who immediately put his hands behind his back and said “take me away.” He later confessed to deputies his anti-Muslim views motivated him to attempt to burn the business down.
Lloyd remains in jail under a $30,000 bond after an initial court appearance on a state charge of first-degree arson, public records show. Authorities are now reviewing the case to determine if federal hate crime charges should be filed.
A sheriff’s report says Lloyd, advised of his Miranda rights, told deputies he had gone to the convenience store a few days earlier and became “mad” when he couldn’t find a bottle of orange-pineapple juice to purchase.
“Lloyd said he noticed that the worker was Arab and [mistakenly] assumed he was Muslim,” according to the sheriff’s report detailing the arrest.
The suspect said that motivated him to return at 7:30 a.m. on March 10. He tore paper signs off the front of the business, threw them in the Dumpster he rolled in front of the business before lighting its contents on fire with two pocket lighters, the arresting deputy’s report said.
“His plan was to get a big enough fire in the Dumpster to catch the building on fire,” hoping bottles of liquor inside the business would ignite and “burn it to the ground,” the report said.
The store was closed at the time and no one was inside. Firefighters quickly put out the fire, which caused only minor damage.
The suspect said he wanted to “run [Muslims] out of America, due to what they are doing in the Middle East,” the sheriff’s report said.
“I asked him if he watched the store for a while before starting the fire to make sure nobody was inside and he said, ‘no, when I got there I went straight to work,’” the deputy’s report said.
St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken J. Mascara credited alert citizens “who may have helped us avoid a much more significant incident.”
“I think what is most important is that we again have residents of our community calling law enforcement when they see something that just doesn’t seem right,” the sheriff said.