(CBS) – A 36-year-old contract employee charged in connection with an arson fire at an Aurora air-traffic control facility that disrupted flights in and out of Chicago’s airports was found trying to cut his own throat, federal authorities said Friday.
Brian Howard of Naperville was charged in federal court with one felony count of destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities, the FBI said in a news release.
Howard, a telecommunications contract employee who had access to the FAA’s Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora, was recently advised he would be transferred to Hawaii, court documents said. He arrived at the control center with a black suitcase Friday morning.
Someone at the control center called 9-1-1 around 5:45 a.m. to report a fire. The fire in the control center basement caused a ripple effect that effectively shut down air traffic in the Chicago region, stranding thousands of passengers.
At the Aurora facility, paramedics followed a trail of blood in the basement and found a knife and lighter. Then they encountered an injured, shirtless man later identified as Howard.
“Howard was in the process of actively slicing his throat with another knife,” the federal affidavit says. The injured man, who had other self-inflicted wounds on his arms, reportedly told the first-responders to “leave me alone.”
Authorities say a message appeared on a Facebook page with Howard’s name around the time of a 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.”
Howard remains hospitalized and no court date has yet been scheduled.
Authorities were preparing to search the suspect’s apartment Friday evening. Neighbors there expressed surprise.
“Seemed like a normal dude, really,” Colin McGrath told CBS 2’s Mai Martinez. “This is the last thing I would expect to come home to.”
“It’s kind of crazy. It just goes to show you don’t know who your neighbors are,” added David Mazzolini.
Howard does not appear to have a criminal record, beyond driving violations, CBS 2 has learned.
If convicted of the charge filed against him, Harris faces a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
To read the federal complaint against Howard, click here.
By Friday evening, airlines had canceled nearly 1,550 flights today at O’Hare. Flights that were still scheduled were being delayed by as much as three hours, the city’s Aviation Department said.
At Midway, airlines canceled more than 470 flights. Southwest Airlines has suspended all flights for the day.