CHESTERLAND, Ohio — A 20-year-old Alliance man is facing federal changes for allegedly attempting to burn down a Geauga County church ahead of this weekend's drag queen events.
In a release, the U.S. Department of Justice says Aimenn D. Penny was arrested on Friday and charged with one count of malicious use of explosive materials and one count of possessing a destructive device.
Specifically, Penny is accused of using Molotov cocktails against the Community Church of Chesterland (CCC) on March 25. No one was injured in the attack and officials said while the incident destroyed the church's sign, it left only minimal damage.
"We're very relieved and extremely happy," Rev. Jess Peacock of Community Church of Chesterland told 3News on Friday. "We're grateful for how quickly the investigative bodies worked in this case. While we have no ill will and forgive them, we would like to see this case prosecuted to send a message that attempting to bomb churches, mosques, synagogues, etc. is not okay."
If convicted, Penny faces a mandatory minimum of five years and up to 20 years in prison for the malicious use of explosive materials charge and up to 10 years in prison for the possession of a destructive device charge.
"Violence and destruction are never an acceptable way to express a disagreement with a particular viewpoint,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle M. Baeppler for the Northern District of Ohio. “While, as Americans, we enjoy the right to disagree, doing so peacefully is the only appropriate option. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio remains committed to protecting the rights of all citizens to express their viewpoints peacefully.”
The Community Church of Chesterland and Chardon restaurant Element 41 are teaming up on Saturday for a drag queen brunch and story hour for charity. In addition to the vandalism incident on March 25, both the church and the restaurant have received threats.
On Thursday, Chester Township Police Chief Craig Young sent out a post on Facebook recommending that the event be canceled. The church responded with a statement saying they plan to move forward with the event.
"We implore police officials to turn their attention away from our private events and focus on keeping the hate groups away," organizers wrote. Instead of asking us to hide, perhaps they could tell the hate groups not to come."