Just before Thanksgiving, someone messaged me and said he saw a car at the top of the steps of the War Memorial, one of the big, beautiful buildings with huge staircases near our apartment in downtown Indianapolis.
I thought it was a joke, but we found a dozen firetrucks, police cars and an ambulance along one of the main streets. I watched from the park across the street as a man draped in a flag stood with a cross and a book for about an hour before police coaxed him down the steps. He had poured gasoline down the steps of the memorial and lit it on fire.
Later, a few media reports wrote as though the man was troubled, but a local television station has an update with an interview with the man that has a bit of religion in the angle.
He called RTV6 to say he wanted to tell his side of the story.
“What I was trying to do with whatever I had was to try to get everybody to stop and think of Christ and his ways and to be nice to each other and love each other,” Whitaker told RTV6.
Whitaker, brandishing a large book and a blue pole, pulled a handgun from his waistband at one point during the standoff, police said, prompting officers to hold him at gunpoint.
“I said, ‘If you come and join us in Christ, I’ll lay my weapon on the ground,’” Whitaker said. “Three of them were brave enough to come up, and I put my weapon on the ground, and they gave me a hug.”
What’s completely unclear from this report is more details from the man about his faith and what provoked his reaction. It’s as though the reporter talked to him for five minutes to get a few quotes with no real substance. In other words, the piece doesn’t spell out the deranged nature of his call. How did he get access to a phone to talk to a reporter if he is being held in a hospital’s detention unit under psychiatric evaluation? As you read on, you see a little different picture from the police.
Whitaker mooned police before he threw his gun down the memorial steps and was taken into custody, about an hour after the incident began.
Police credited State Capitol Police Sgt. Russell Growe with establishing a bond with Whitaker.
“He worked on that bond to establish a rapport, and what happened was that this was a very potentially lethal situation. I mean, you had gasoline, you had matches, you had a weapon,” War Memorial Director Brig. Gen. J. Stewart Goodwin said shortly after the arrest. “You had a person that was not real stable.”
Here, we get the sense that this man is a bit deranged but says he has a religious motivation for the public standoff with police. He was charged with arson and criminal recklessness instead of something more serious, so perhaps it was worth asking the police whether they saw religious motivation here. If he truly wanted to tell his side of the story, could a reporter have probed his motivations a little bit more? It’s a truly strange story.