MEMPHIS, Tenn. - A truck driver who threatened to "shoot up" a church in Memphis and said he was haunted by "spiritual snakes and spiders" people put in his bed was arrested in Indiana, less than a week before the day of the planned attacks, authorities said in newly filed court records.
Thomas Matthew McVicker was arrested in Indianapolis on Friday, according to a criminal complaint unsealed this week. It's the most recent case in a string of men being arrested around the country for threatening to carry out shootings.
McVicker, 38, made "credible threats to conduct a mass shooting and suicide" planned for this coming Thursday, an FBI special agent said in a sworn affidavit.
He was arrested by Indiana State Police and the FBI, said Chris Bavender, an FBI spokeswoman in Indianapolis.
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Earlier this month, a friend of McVicker in Fairhope, Alabama, told a Florida FBI officer McVicker had been considering a mass shooting at a church or killing people on the street.
Later, in a telephone call, the friend said McVicker told her the church shooting would happen when he was in Memphis on Thursday and that he "intended to take his knife and slit the pastor's throat."
His mother told the FBI McVicker owned a Ruger P90 handgun and sometimes uses cocaine and methamphetamine. She also said her son is being treated for schizophrenia. McVicker told his Alabama friend "evil entities entered his body and are torturing him," the affidavit states.
The friend asked McVicker why he wanted to kill innocent people, and he said "they put spiritual snakes and spiders in my bed at night," the FBI agent wrote. "I've only seen them a couple of times but they take form and I can feel them crawling on me and under me," the affidavit states.
The FBI says it confirmed with McVicker's employer that he requested leave time Thursday and that he indicated in the request that he would spend the leave time in Memphis, the affidavit states.
The affidavit doesn't specify a motive, nor does it identify a specific Memphis church. McVicker's friend did not learn of an exact location from the phone call. However, "McVicker insisted that 'something' would happen when he was in Memphis," the affidavit states.
The Memphis Police Department was notified of the threat, which did not mention a specific church, police spokesman Louis Brownlee said Tuesday. Memphis police work regularly with state and federal authorities on these types of threats "to stay ahead of the curve," Brownlee said.
After his arrest, McVicker was placed in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, said Gabe Guerrero, a spokesman for the federal agency in Indianapolis. Guerrero said he can't comment on which facility is holding McVicker.
Earle Fisher, pastor at Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, said he would be reaching out to his congregation to tell them about the threat and inform them that the church has security measures in place.
Rev. Dr. Keith Norman at First Baptist – Broad confirmed that they planned to beef up security at their church. He said the church does not discuss actual security measures in place.
“We shouldn’t just use the language of churches,” said Norman. “We have to be concerned about our brothers in mosques. We have to be concerned about our friends in the synagogues. We have to be concerned about people at Tom Lee Park, people gathering all over our city gathering peacefully.
"Whether it’s the church up on the river, Brown Baptist Church or First Baptist Broad or Christ Missionary or Hope Presbyterian, people should have the right to gather freely and worship without threat.”
Julia Hicks, the director of mission at First Congregational Church, said their church planned on maintaining a sense of sanctuary and safety.
“There’s no such thing as absolute safety,” said Hicks, “but we try to be wise with our security We try to be as thoughtful and prepared as much as you can.”
“We have important work to do and we have to move forward and be the church first and foremost.”
Laura Gettys, the dean at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, acknowledged the church has “safety procedures in place and are grateful that the community and FBI apprehended this individua.”
“St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral remains a House of Prayer for all People, and we will continue to work and pray towards ensuring that this world is a safe and equitable place for all God’s beloved children,” Gettys wrote to FOX13 Investigates.
"It's tragic that we are in a climate that even in your house of worship, in what is supposed to be a sacred and safe space, you have to take up measures that might include making sure that you have armed security in your sanctuary to make sure that your parishioners are safe," Fisher said.
After the initial tip, a task force officer in the FBI's Tampa division conducted much of the investigation, reaching out to McVicker's friend, mother and company, among other things, the affidavit shows. The case "supports our message that the FBI takes all tips from the public seriously and continually works with federal, state and local law enforcement partners to keep our communities safe," Tampa FBI spokeswoman Andrea Aprea said in an email.
Court records in Alabama show McVicker received a ticket for driving a truck in an improper lane in Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham, in June 2014. He was working for Swift Transportation of Gary, Indiana, at the time, records show. McVicker failed to pay the fine until 13 months later, after his driver's license was suspended, records show.
Court records list McVicker's address as Punta Gorda, Florida, but his Alabama friend told the FBI that McVicker lives in his semi. The records don't list a lawyer who could be reached for comment on McVicker's behalf.
Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; and Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this report incorrectly said Chris Bavender is an FBI spokesman instead of a spokeswoman.
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