N.J. Grenade Launcher Suspect Was a Navy Deserter

Man arrested with weapons cache went AWOL from USS Orion more than 10 years ago.

January 26, 2010, 8:12 AM

Jan. 26, 2010 — -- The man arrested in New Jersey with a cache of weapons that included a grenade launcher was a U.S. Navy deserter, a spokesman for the Navy said today.

According to naval records, Woodson served on the USS Orion beginning in February 1988 until he deserted in April 1989. He was returned to Navy custody eight years later and discharged soon after. Navy spokesman Lt. Justin Cole told ABCNews.com that generally speaking, those who go AWOL do not receive honorable discharges.

Local authorities in Branchburg Township, N.J., arrested Woodson, of Reston, Va., Monday after responding to a call about a man acting suspiciously, according to a report by the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office.

When the first officers on the scene originally questioned Woodson, he became "extremely nervous" and fled from the cops into a trailer park. He was subsequently found hiding in the bushes nearby, and police tackled him after he attempted another escape on foot, prosecutors said.

When he was arrested, Woodson was wearing a bulletproof vest and was carrying a high-powered rifle under a long military-style jacket with several clips of hollow-point ammunition.

Later, investigators found the cache of weapons, which in addition to a grenade launcher, included another high-powered rifle, a night vision scope, a police scanner, a head scarf that looked Middle Eastern, a map of a military installation and a map of an out-of-state civilian community. Hundreds of rounds for each rifle were also found.

The serial numbers for the rifles had been defaced, apparently to hinder an investigation into their origins.

Though prosecutors said they were still investigating Woodson's intentions, the FBI told ABCNews.com that the incident was "not a terrorism thing."

"We just went out there and investigated, met with the folks that were the local authorities," Special Agent Bryan Travers, an FBI public affairs officer, told ABCNews.com. "We determined it wasn't a terrorism thing."

Woodson is being held at the Somerset County Jail on several felony weapons charges. Bail has been set at $75,000.

"In our experience, for private citizens to have this type of armament is quite unusual in Somerset County," Somerset County Prosecutor Wayne Forrest told New Jersey's Star Ledger Monday. "If you're over in Afghanistan, it wouldn't be rare."

Feds: Incident Not Terror-Related

The FBI and local Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined in the investigation but determined that despite the firepower, the incident was not terror-related.

"Woodson does not appear to have a link to any known terrorist groups, nor a specific terrorist plot," the FBI said in a statement. "However, the matter is still under investigation, and these should only be considered preliminary findings."

According to former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett, the bureau walks a fine line when determining what constitutes a terror plot.

"Could you argue that Timothy McVeigh [Oklahoma City bomber] was a terrorist? Most people would clearly say that he's a homegrown terrorist," Garrett said. "But unless you can link [Woodson] with a group, they [the FBI] would probably say 'No.'

"For whatever reason, they feel like this doesn't rise to be prosecuted in federal court. ... Just because they've done that, doesn't mean they won't change their mind," he said.

It not known whether Woodson has retained a lawyer, and no legal counsel appeared with him in court today.

Military-Grade Weapons Among Us

In addition to the grenade launcher, one of the two rifles was modified to fire .50-caliber rounds, the same rounds used in many anti-tank rifles. Such firepower is not often seen outside military bases or distant battlefields.

But it's hardly the first time military-grade weapons have appeared in relatively sleepy American towns.

When authorities arrested a former Marine Jan. 12 on rape allegations, investigators reported finding several firearms, including a grenade launcher in Duncan, Okla., according to The Associated Press.

On Jan. 6, a medical internist pleaded not guilty of planting a bomb that injured a family doctor in Arkansas in February 2009, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. The suspect, a registered arms dealer, had a grenade launcher and later more than 100 automatic and semi-automatic weapons were found in his home.

In another incident, police responded to a domestic disturbance call and ended up calling the bomb squad after they found a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher in an apartment in Houston Dec. 31, 2009, according to a report by ClicktoHouston.com. A weapon like that can fire a missile nearly 1,000 feet high and can be used to attack buildings or tanks.

In 2007, an anonymous arms owner took advantage of Florida's Kicks for Guns project in which police gave out sneakers in exchange for firearms, by turning in a 4-foot-long rocket launcher.

The man, who remained anonymous thanks to the program's No Questions Asked policy, told the Orlando Sentinel he found the launcher in a shed near his home.

"I didn't know what to do with it, so I brought it here," he told the newspaper. "I took it to three dumps to try to get rid of it, and they told me to get lost."

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