Arson suspect wanted to fight charges
PRESCOTT, Ariz. ” The Friends of the Catalyst Infoshop in Prescott were in shock after learning the bookstore’s owner and their friend, William Rodgers, committed suicide in a jail cell in Flagstaff.
Rodgers, 40, who is one of the six people arrested on Dec. 7 in connection with alleged eco-sabotage attacks in the western United States, suffocated after placing a plastic bag over his head, according to the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office.
An FBI linked Rodgers to the Vail Mountain arson attacks in 1998, though he had not been charged in the fires that destroyed the old Two Elk restaurant and damaged other buildings.
“Bill was a great friend to many of us,” said Sarah Lauinius, a spokesperson for the Friends of Catalyst Infoshop, a book store that Rodgers ran with a business partner.
“I’m very proud of who he was as a human being and the work he did,” she said. “As friends we are able to continue that work through this physical space (the bookstore). And we have every intention to do so.”
Jailers in Flagstaff found Rodgers dead shortly before 7 a.m., Thursday, Lt. Charlie Wong said. Lights out at the jail is at 10 p.m. so he could have died anytime during the night, Wong said. He said Rodgers gave no indication he was depressed or intended to take his own life.
Rodgers’ passing comes two weeks after his arrest when FBI agents took him in custody along with five other suspects in connection with a nine-year investigation of numerous arsons in the Northwest. The Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for many of them, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland said.
Rodgers faced charges in connection with a 1998 arson at an animal and plant inspection site.
Investigators” inventory of a six-hour search of Rodgers’ residence and bookstore listed boxes of suspected bomb-making materials such as timers and re-lighting birthday candles and three guns. Police also found two digital photos of nude, prepubescent girls stored on a compact disc, authorities said.
In the light of all these events, Launius said, “We never saw any formal charges. There is still a big question mark there. Now, we’ll never know what the real truth is.”
Rodger’s attorney, David Barrow of Flagstaff, said that in the short time he knew Rodgers, the two became good friends.
“I’m deeply saddened by this,” he said. “He was a beautiful man with high principles and we’re worse for his passing.”
A federal magistrate court refused to release Rodgers on bail, declaring he was a danger to society and likely to flee. He also took notice of testimony by an FBI agent that more charges from other arsons totaling $20 million were likely.
An affidavit authorities unsealed in a Eugene, Ore., federal court states that Rodgers helped plan the Vail fires. The affidavit also implicated Rodgers in a fire at a lumber mill in Glendale, Ore, and taking part in a “dry run” of an arson attack in 2001.
Marilyn O’Donnell, owner of Whim Z in the McCormick Art District in Prescott, expressed shock on learning of Rodgers’ death.
“He was always a gentleman to me and very neighborly,” she said. “That is just horrific.”
Barrow said Rodgers told him he planned to fight the charges.
“In a sense he’s denied the opportunity to clear his name,” he said.
No one has been charged in the Vail fires, but Chelsea Gerlach, a woman who has been indicted in connection with other ecosabotage attacks in the Northwest, also has been called a suspect by federal authorities.
This story from the Prescott Daily-Courier and includes contributions from The Associated Press.