Tucked into the deeply evangelical corner of southwestern Missouri, the Islamic Society of Joplin's mosque was an oasis for Muslims -- the only mosque within a 50-mile radius.
But in August 2012, during Ramadan, the building burned to the ground in an apparent arson fire. It was the second attempt made on the mosque in about a month; activists feared a hate crime, and a team of federal and local investigators couldn't find a suspect.
But now, a surprise turn in a different arson case has implicated an Iraq veteran, who officials say confessed over the weekend to burning down the mosque in addition to making attempts on the local Planned Parenthood office.
According to a probable cause statement filed in federal court, the trail to Jedediah Stout, 29, began after police found him on Oct. 4 walking the railroad tracks five blocks away from a Planned Parenthood building -- where, for the second time in two days, a backpack filled with accelerants had been thrown onto the building's roof and set on fire. Both times, the building failed to ignite.
Stout, sweating profusely when first arrested, told police that he was "sort of homeless" and had been at a bar. (An online dating profile under his name says he had quit drinking.) Police found a lighter in his pockets but no cigarettes. (The same dating profile says he doesn't smoke.)
Police said they confirmed Stout had bought the same items that were left on the Planned Parenthood roof and found his fingerprints on a plastic bottle in the gutter of the building.
He was arrested and charged with attempted arson on Friday, and in court documents filed Monday, prosecutors revealed a dramatic twist in the case: In addition to admitting the attempt to set the Planned Parenthood building on fire, Stout also confessed to burning down the mosque a year earlier.
Officials have not yet charged Stout in the mosque fire. On Monday, federal prosecutors filed a request to hold a detention hearing to determine Stout's status as the case unfolds.
No reason was given in court filings for the attacks.
In Facebook and online dating profiles under his name and showing a photo that appeared to match his booking picture, Stout self-identified as a politically conservative Christian and a struggling veteran. According to U.S. Army records, Stout was a combat engineer from October 2002 to July 2005 and had deployed to Iraq from September 2003 to September 2004.
"My feelings are that I seek after solace from my time in Iraq, and find peace in prayer," the Facebook about-me section says. In a MeetMe.com profile, he apparently wrote that the first thing somebody might notice about him is that he is "crazy as ..."
In his sole public posting on Facebook, on May 28, Stout apparently wrote, "Just got back from the V.A. hospital in Fayatteville. It will be a while before I get the results of the cat scan to determine whether or not I have cancer."
The confession in court documents brought relief to Imam Lahmuddin of the Islamic Society of Joplin, who told the Los Angeles Times that he'd never heard of Stout before.
"At this point, we are grateful that law enforcement has been able to arrest him, and at least this will stop him from continuing what he had been doing," Lahmuddin told The Times.
The destruction of the mosque brought about $400,000 in donations from online donors and a couple hundred thousand dollars raised through the local Islamic society of Joplin, Lahmuddin said. Community leaders have since bought a plot for the new mosque and are still finalizing plans for a new building before construction begins.
“We always feel welcome here. As you can see, the reaction of the community in Joplin after the fire, they’re very supportive and encouraged us to rebuild in Joplin," Lahmuddin said, adding of Stout, "His arrest will not bring back our mosque, but we at least feel relief, and we know who did what he did."
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