Cult members arrested for trying to bomb church

Burleson-Crowley Connection, Texas/July 1, 2007
By Matt Smith

The Burleson teenagers facing arson charges for trying to bomb a church have also been charged with engaging in organized criminal activity.

Burleson police arrested two men July 4 and one July 5 who cited religious beliefs in attempting to detonate a bomb at Victory Family Church in Burleson.

According to reports, the suspects — Dayton Lee Calaway, 19, of Burleson, Michael Philip Plaisted Jr., 18, of Burleson, Jered Michael Ragon, 18, of Burleson, and an underage boy — twice attempted to detonate the device before being interrupted by the deacon. Police discovered the device propped against the church door.

Calaway and Plaisted are in the Johnson County Corrections Center on $100,000 bail each. Ragon is being held on $105,000 bail, the extra coming from a charge of tampering with and fabricating physical evidence.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Burleson fire marshal are helping Burleson police in the investigation. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Terrorism Task Force have offered their services.

Police officers responding July 4 to a call of suspicious activity at the church, which is under construction, found a deacon had detained Calaway and Plaisted. The deacon, whose name has not been released, said he caught the pair after they attempted to run but became stuck in mud. Ragon and the boy fled the scene in a vehicle.

While investigating the events at the church, police received a call about a fire in a field about two to three miles from the church. A resident saw a plume of smoke, heard screaming and saw a man run out of a wooded area and leave in a vehicle. According to reports, Ragon was attempting to destroy evidence on the manufacturing of the explosive device. Police said Ragon, who was wearing sandals, doused the evidence with gasoline but did not realize he was standing in a puddle of gasoline when he lit the fire. His feet were burned in the fire. A MedStar ambulance treated him at the Burleson Police Department the next day, but he refused transport to the hospital.

Although Burleson Police Cmdr. Chris Havens declined to elaborate on the bomb, he said it was a simple, homemade device, the plans for which could probably be easy to find on the Internet. Had the device detonated it would have caused a substantial explosion and likely led to a fire in the church, he said.

Plaisted and Calaway implicated Ragon during interviews after their arrests, Burleson Detective Tom Catron said, and all three subsequently admitted to involvement in a religious group that made the bomb. Ragon voluntarily came in for questioning and was arrested then, police said.

Although the name of the group the three associate with is unknown, Havens said the men identified themselves as radical Christian activists who oppose government and organized religion.

"They said the act at the church was a test of the device itself and to get the attention of the community," Havens said.

Group members share common beliefs about the demise of society, which they believe has become too focused on self-improvement and self-gratification and lost it's focus on the glorification of God, police said. The group is attempting to wake up society by committing destructive acts, according to reports. Group members further believe there are too many denominations and churches, and there ought to be only one.

The group has three levels of membership, according to information the suspects gave police. Weekly Bible study at a Burleson park is the first. Consensual fighting and involvement in destructive acts are the second and third, respectively. One of the core beliefs of the group, however, is free thought, so participation in the second two levels is not mandatory.

The group consists of about 10 to 15 members, Havens said. Police think the members are teenagers and residents of Burleson and Fort Worth. Police are hoping for cooperation from the three suspects to locate and interview other group members.

Police consider the group domestic terrorists, Havens said. Police did not charge the fourth suspect, a juvenile, because the other three suspects said he was not involved.

Calaway, Plaisted and Ragon face sentences of five to 99 years in state jail, Havens said. The state charges would be dropped if federal charges are filed. Two of the suspects admitted to involvement in a fire at a recycling bin near Center Pointe Church on Alsbury Boulevard last spring. The two targeted a recycling bin, police said, because they believe the older generation is making the younger generation clean up the mess.

Burleson Fire Marshal Stacy Singleton caught Ragon lighting Styrofoam plates on fire in 2006 on Alsbury. Ragon was not arrested then.

A representative at Victory Family Church declined to comment on the incident. Calaway, Plaisted and Ragon have been charged with arson at a place of worship, a first-degree felony. All three remain in the Johnson County Corrections Center on $30,000 bonds. Ragon has a second bond of $5,000 for tampering with physical evidence.

Havens said Friday that the U.S. Attorney's office intends to file federal charges.

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