FBI: No terrorism in plane suspect's background
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
ELLSINORE, Mo. -- A flight student suspected of stealing a plane in Canada and flying erratically across several states was trying to commit suicide, hoping to get shot down by military fighter planes, a state trooper said Tuesday.
Adam Dylan Leon, 31, was arrested at a convenience store in Ellsinore, shortly after landing the single-engine, four-seat Cessna on a rural Missouri road Monday night, police said.
The plane, which flew for seven hours, was tracked as a "flight safety issue" and was not believed to be a terrorist threat, Mike Kucharek, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said from Colorado Springs, Colo. A background check of Leon showed no connection to terrorism, FBI agent John Gillies said.
The Missouri state trooper who arrested Leon said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the pilot told him he had hoped to be shot down.
"He made a statement that he was trying to commit suicide and he didn't have the courage to do it himself. And his idea was to fly the aircraft into the United States, where he would be shot down," trooper Justin Watson said.
Leon was jailed in St. Louis, said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said. A spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor's office in St. Louis said no charges have been filed.
Gillies said federal authorities must determine if Leon should be charged or simply deported.
Rusnok said Leon was born in Turkey with the name Yavuz Berke, but moved to Canada and became a naturalized citizen last year.
The plane was reported stolen Monday afternoon from Confederation College Flight School at Thunder Bay International Airport in Ontario. The college said in a statement the flight was unauthorized but that Leon was enrolled in its program.
The plane was intercepted by F-16 fighters from the Wisconsin National Guard after crossing into the state near the Michigan state line.
The pilot flew erratically and didn't communicate with the fighter pilots, Kucharek said at the Aerospace Defense Command. The pilot acknowledged seeing the F-16s but didn't obey their nonverbal commands to follow them, Kucharek said.
The plane's path over Wisconsin prompted a brief, precautionary evacuation of the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison, although there were few workers in the building at the time and the governor was not in town.
The Cessna 172 continued south over Illinois and eastern Missouri before landing near Ellsinore, about 25 miles northwest of Poplar Bluff. The plane landed about six hours after the reported theft, and had had enough fuel for about eight hours of flight, NAADC officials said.
"We tailed it all the way," Maj. Brian Martin said. "Once it landed our aircraft returned to base."
Watson told ABC that Leon apparently hitched a ride to the convenience store after landing on a highway and taxiing the plane to a side road. He didn't appear surprised when the officer entered the convenience store to arrest him.
Leon said "he didn't have any ID, but he was the person we were looking for," Watson said.
He said Leon "gave me no indication that it was anything other than he was having personal problems and was in an attempt to end his life."
"He did state that he thought at one time he was getting shot down, but apparently the Air Force were just shooting flares," the trooper said.
Marilyn Simmons, owner of the convenience store, worried about terrorism when a relative called to tell her about the plane.
"My husband went and got his guns and gave me one," Simmons said.
She then called the store and told workers to watch out. Sure enough, Leon showed up after a young man who stopped to offer help gave him a ride.
"He gave him $2 and dropped him off," Simmons said. "He asked for the bathroom, then got a Gatorade and sat down at the table. He was there when they came and got him. He was smiling when he went out."
Confederation College said Leon had access to Cessna training planes and security at the facility was not compromised. It said Leon was readmitted to the program in the fall after failing in 2007 and that he passed his cross-country solo flying test last week.
Fellow students were shocked and surprised, said Patricia Lang, president of the college.
"His faculty speak very highly of him," she said. "Everyone likes him. He was a very good student. He was very engaged in class. He asked great questions so he was an all-around good student."
She said Leon lived off campus in Thunder Bay.