COLUMBIA — Columbia police say the man accused of leaving a suspicious package at the Columbia mosque Thursday afternoon — touching off a bomb scare and the closure of several downtown city streets — did not intend to harm anyone.
Police arrested 23-year-old Michael Patrick O’Day on an outstanding warrant and issued a trespass warning after a “suspicious” duffel bag was left on the playground of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, 201 S. Fifth St. The bag contained books and papers, Sgt. Lloyd Simons said.
A bomb robot probed the bag. Afterwards the police used explosives to detonate the duffel bag, Simons said.
A staff member at the center contacted police at about 2:15 p.m. after the suspect entered the center, dropped off the bag and abruptly left.
Islamic Center staff had earlier called police in reference to a report of suspicious behavior. Simons said staffers reported a man using an item to conceal his face. That man, they said, appeared startled after making eye contact with a worker at the center.
Police said O’Day was observed at the scene and detained for questioning. He was identified as the owner of the duffel bag and the suspicious person, police said.
“To our knowledge, he had no intention to harm anybody,” Sgt. Brian Richenberger said.
About 50 people from the mosque and adjoining school, as well as a nearby law firm, were evacuated to the parking lot of the Walton building on Providence Road. No one was hurt in the incident. The streets near the mosque at the corner of Fifth and Locust streets were blocked off to cars and pedestrians for about three hours but were later reopened.
“It was our first priority to get everyone out of the mosque,” Simons said.
It is not clear why the man left the duffel bag, but the incident left some members of the Muslim community rattled.
“It hit home. We need to be more aware and more engaged with the public. People have negative feelings that are so strong to the extent that they are hurting other people,” said Furqaan Sadiq, a member of the Muslim Student Organization at MU. “I don’t know if that is what happened today, but it needs to be addressed.”
About 25 officers from the Columbia Police Department, the MU Police Department, Columbia Fire Department and the FBI responded to the incident.
Members of the Islamic Center’s congregation held a brief meeting to discuss the incident after their evening prayer Thursday.
“It was a rude shock,” said Ahmed Habib, chairman of the Islamic Center’s governing board.
Habib said this was the first time the mosque has had a bomb scare. Habib said people inside the center were initially scared but that area law enforcement “came through for them.”
O’Day was convicted of third-degree assault in January 2007 and placed on supervised probation and parole for two years. He was convicted of theft in October 2006 and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
O’Day was being held Thursday night at the Boone County Jail on $1,000 bond.
— Missourian staff contributed to this report.