Police unsure why suspicious bag was left at mosque

Friday, November 16, 2007 | 7:10 p.m. CST; updated 1:41 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

COLUMBIA — An examination of a duffel bag left on a playground at the Islamic Center of Central Missouri on Thursday didn’t reveal any explosives, but Columbia police said the bag did contain books and papers.

“There was some religious stuff in there,” said Columbia police Sgt. Ken Gregory. He declined to elaborate on the nature of the religious material.

Police detained Michael O’Day, 23, for questioning Thursday after they said he left a duffel bag at the center, prompting a frantic police response.

Police said staffers at the Islamic Center reported that O’Day used an item to conceal his face.

Staffers said O’Day appeared startled after making eye contact with a worker at the center, police 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 Fifth and Locust streets were blocked off for about three hours but were later reopened.

O’Day was arrested on a warrant for a probation violation Thursday that was unrelated to Thursday’s incident. Police were not able to give more details about the probation violation.

Gregory also said that O’Day had previously been ordered off the premises by Islamic Center staff within the last year but declined to say why O’Day had been told to leave,

O’Day is from Centralia and attended Hallsville Middle School. According to a court affidavit for public defender services from Aug. 23, 2006, O’Day was married to Candice O’Day of Brooklyn, N.Y.

He was charged with second-degree robbery and third-degree assault in October 2006 after an incident at a Columbia Wal-Mart, according to 13th Judicial Circuit records. The robbery charge was later reduced to a charge of misdemeanor theft. He pleaded guilty to the theft and assault charges and was sentenced to seven months in Boone County Jail.

Columbia police think the package was left in the Islamic Center intentionally but were not able explain why O’Day left it there.

“I’d say he set it there or dropped it on purpose,” Gregory said. “In my mind, if you walk in a room and someone conceals their face, it comes across as being suspicious.”

The Hazardous Device Team responded to Thursday’s incident. The team is made up of members of the Columbia Police Department, the MU Police Department and the Columbia Fire Department.

Battalion Chief Steven Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department said the Hazardous Device team used a bomb dismantling robot to take video footage of the package to determine if it contained explosive material.

The Hazards Device team used a “controlled explosion” to open the package, he said.

“We want to make sure we follow procedures for the benefit of the community and for those folks in the area where the device is at,” Sapp said.

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