(CBS) — The defense attorney for a Naperville man accused of sabotaging air-traffic control in the Chicago region pleaded Monday for the public’s understanding as his suicidal client made an appearance in federal court.

“He made a tragic mistake,” Ronald Safer said of 36-year-old Brian Howard, whom a judge ordered held without bond. “Only someone who’s deeply troubled would do that.”

Howard is accused of setting a fire at an Aurora radar facility that effectively shut down Chicago’s airports Friday.

The former contract field technician was charged with destruction of aircraft facilities. He allegedly set a fire in the basement of the FAA’s Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora on Friday before inflicting knife wounds on his own arms and throat. The fire led to thousands of flight cancellations and delays at both Midway and O’Hare since Friday.

Howard, a Navy veteran, had recently been told that he would be transferred to Hawaii and reportedly was disgruntled. He had worked for the Harris Corp. for the past eight years, modernizing communications equipment at FAA facilities but was fired after the arson incident.

Safer indicated his client’s actions were a cry for help. He said Howard deeply regrets the air traffic disruption caused in the course of a suicide attempt.

“Friday morning, Brian tried to take his life. That he did so in a way that inconvenienced — and more — many, many people is unacceptable, and he deeply regrets that,” Safer told reporters.

Prosecutors said Howard faces a maximum of 20 years and a massive fine if convicted.

Howard was at a west suburban hospital until he was discharged Monday morning for his appearance at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. In the courtroom, he wore green hospital scrubs and a bandage around his neck. Some of his family members were present but did not talk with reporters.

Authorities say a message appeared on a Facebook page with Howard’s name around the time of Friday’s fire.

“Take a hard look in the mirror, I have. And this is why I am about to take out ZAU (the control center) and my life,” the Facebook message said, according to an FBI special agent’s comments in an affidavit. “April, Pop, luv you guys and I am sorry. Leaving you with a big mess. Do your best to move on quickly from me please. Feel like I give a [expletive] for the first time in a long time again … but not for too long (haha!) So I’m gonna smoke this blunt and move on, take care everyone.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Agency says it is launching a review of the incident at the Aurora air traffic control center.  That center is not expected to be fully operational for another two weeks.

Howard is a U.S. Navy veteran who served from 1996 to 2000; along the way, he earned a good conduct medal and other awards, the Navy said.

 

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