UPDATE: After an outcry from Sen. Eric Lesser, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., AJC Global Jewish Advocacy of New England, And District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, a federal judge has overruled the release of John Rathburn, and he is back in custody.
By Stacey Dresner
LONGMEADOW – John Rathburn, 36, of East Longmeadow was arrested and charged with attempting to firebomb Ruth’s House, JGS Lifecare’s assisted living facility in Longmeadow.
Rathburn was charged with two counts of arson on April 15, in a criminal complaint in federal court in Springfield.
In a stunning move, Rathburn was released that same day by a Federal Judige and is under house arrest in his mother’s home, most likely due to concerns about spreading COVID-19 in jails.
“Releasing this individual whose DNA-evidence was found at the scene, and who allegedly engaged in on-line platforms that included antisemitic and racial threats of violence, undermines the safety and security of the entire community,” the ADL’s New England office said in a statement.
Rathburn is accused of creating an incendiary device from a five-gallon plastic gas canister, filling it with gasoline and lighting up a piece of paper that was inserted in the can’s nozzle. The paper turned out to be a Christian pamphlet.
While the paper had been lit and was charred, the device, which had been placed near an entrance and walkway at Ruth’s House, did not explode and no one was injured. Authorities found Rathburn, a convicted felon, through DNA blood evidence left on the can.
“In times of national crisis, hatred based on religion often blossoms into violence,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “The charges in this case allege that the defendant tried to blow up a Jewish assisted living residence with a five gallon gas canister, at the same time that the facility was being discussed on white supremacist online platforms. We will find, investigate and aggressively prosecute anyone engaged in this kind of mayhem. I also extend my thanks to the Longmeadow Police Department for its help with this investigation.”
According to the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in the District of Massachusetts, in March 2020, a white supremacist organization that operated on two chat rooms was identified by law enforcement. The chat rooms promoted mass killings “directed against religious, racial and ethnic minorities; discussed plans to engage in these crimes themselves; discussed using various explosive and incendiary devices, including improvised devices commonly known as “Molotov cocktails”; and identified targets, such as mosques and synagogues.”
On March 4, a user on that platform discussed “that Jew nursing home in longmeadow Massachusetts” as a location for a mass killing and April 3 as “jew killing day.” The criminal complaint alleges it was “likely the same individual.”
“I am both saddened and very angry at the horrific act of anti-Semitism and attempted arson targeting Ruth’s House in Longmeadow,” said Sen. Eric Lesser. “I want to thank the FBI along with the East Longmeadow and Longmeadow Police Departments for their swift work.
“The Anti-Defamation League and the Commonwealth’s own Hate Crimes Task Force has documented an increase in anti-Semitism and hate crimes against many groups here in Massachusetts, and our local community of Western Mass is not immune. Several community institutions have now faced threats, and our local organizations require significantly more security support from both the Federal and State government. This is an urgent matter which threatens bedrock American values of religious liberty and pluralism.
Anyone with questions or information about this case can contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office at (888) 221-6023.