Harold Waller

Sacramento airport gun suspect appears in court

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 27, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Mar. 27, 2012 - 8:17 am

A Montana man suspected of trying to take four loaded handguns onto a flight at Sacramento International Airport last week made his first appearance Monday in federal court in Sacramento.

Harold Edward Waller, 45, is charged with carrying a concealed dangerous weapon that would have been accessible to him in flight onto an aircraft. The federal felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Waller, wearing eyeglasses and an orange Sacramento County jail jumpsuit, did not speak during the brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dale A. Drozd, who read the charge against him.

A defense lawyer making a special appearance, Matthew Roy, said Waller's family members in Montana were attempting to hire private attorneys and asked to put the matter over. The judge continued the hearing until 2 p.m. Thursday.

The criminal complaint was filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jean Hobler. An FBI affidavit attached to it says that last Thursday afternoon, Waller, "sweaty and fidgeting," walked up to a U.S. Airways ticket agent and asked for a flight to "anywhere in Alaska."

The agent booked him on a flight to Phoenix, with a connecting flight to Anchorage, according to the sworn statement by FBI Special Agent Michael Di Roma.

At the security checkpoint, Transportation Security Administration employees spotted a gun in one of Waller's three carry-on bags. He acknowledged it was his and took off his jacket, revealing a loaded 9 mm handgun in a shoulder holster, the affidavit says. Handguns were found in two other bags Waller had placed on the X-ray machine, it says.

TSA employees led Waller away from the security area and Sacramento County sheriff's deputies arrested him. FBI agents and other authorities stepped into the investigation.

More loaded guns, including two assault rifles and a "high volume" of ammunition, were found in Waller's vehicle, the affidavit says.

Sacramento County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jason Ramos said Waller left his car at Performance Chevrolet on Madison Avenue, and that eight guns – a combination of rifles and handguns along with ammunition – were found in it.

Waller was "surprisingly matter-of-fact" when confronted, Ramos said.

Waller told investigators he had decided to travel to Alaska for a few days, Di Roma said in his statement. He said he knew he had guns and was carrying them onto a plane but "disclaimed any intent to harm anyone," the special agent wrote.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Waller's mother said the 45-year-old divorced father of two is suffering from mental illness.

"I don't understand it. Nobody who was thinking properly would do what he did," Helen Waller told AP. She said her son was driven from the family farm near Circle, Mont., and to Sacramento for treatment of depression several weeks ago.

Waller sought treatment at a Sacramento clinic that specializes in detoxification because he discovered that he is allergic to the anti-depression medication prescribed to him, she told AP. He also visited a nutritionist, his mother said.

She did not know why her son was attempting to catch a U.S. Airways flight.

"I am thankful that nobody got hurt," she told AP. "I am hoping it will bring more awareness to individuals that there are more people than they would guess that have a mental disorder."

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