Wichita — Prosecutors Thursday charged a decorated, double-amputee veteran with stalking and three counts of criminal use of weapons in an incident involving members of a controversial Topeka church.
Ryan J. Newell, 26, an Army veteran living in Marion, Kan., made his first appearance in Sedgwick County District Court through a video connection with the Sedgwick County Jail.
He also was charged with false impersonation. His bond remains at $500,000.
Sedgwick County sheriff’s detectives arrested Newell mid-morning Tuesday in the Wichita City Hall parking lot after a detective saw him following a van with members of Westboro Baptist Church, Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said.
The church members were meeting in City Hall with police officials. Detectives found Newell in a vehicle backed into a parking space. In the vehicle, investigators found two handguns, a rifle and more than 90 rounds of ammunition. Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives went to Newell’s home, and his wife turned over items including firearms to law enforcement.
The Topeka church has drawn wide condemnation because its members protest at soldiers’ funerals nationwide. The members claim that war deaths are God’s punishment for immorality.
Newell lost his legs after an improvised bomb exploded while he was serving in Afghanistan in 2008. Some of his fellow soldiers died in the attack.
The church did not protest at funerals of the soldiers who were killed in the bombing that wounded Newell, said Westboro spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper.
Newell has received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Marion residents put on a parade for Newell when he returned home from Afghanistan and pitched in to help build his family a new home through the nonprofit group Homes for Our Troops. The home was designed to accommodate his injuries.