Terrorist sympathizer who placed bombs in South Carolina roadways sentenced

“This was deliberately placed where a child or passerby could have found it. Fortunately, someone saw it and knew to call us,” said Special Agent Christopher Derrickson, a supervisor in the FBI Columbia JTTF.

With the bomber still out there and becoming more brazen, the FBI and its partners continued to ramp up the investigation. The FBI brought in profilers, analysts, bomb experts, and crisis response teams from the Bureau’s Critical Incident Response Group to South Carolina to assist in the effort.

Two more devices were found in the subsequent days: one a hoax, and one an actual bomb that bomb techs disabled before it went off. Evidence clearly linked the bombs together.

The FBI says that a break in the case came when local police talked to a man who said he knew someone who had been practicing building bombs in his home. After additional investigation, the JTTF quickly closed in on the man, Wesley “Dallas” Ayers, 26, who lived very close to the site of the bombings.

After gathering enough evidence for a judge to approve a search warrant, investigators searched Ayers’ home that he shared with his girlfriend. The evidence was overwhelming, including identical bomb components to the ones used in the devices and exact copies of the writings that had been found at the scenes. Also among the evidence were two guns and a type of vest known to be used by suicide bombers.

Ayers’ computer history showed he had self-radicalized, consuming terrorist propaganda from Anwar al-Awlaki, Osama bin Laden, and others.

In total, there were six incidents between 24 January and 24 February 2018—three hoax devices and three bombs. The investigation was a race against time, as the FBI’s bomb experts could see the devices getting more sophisticated each time. Without the quick work to locate and arrest Ayers, the bombings could have been much worse.

“We knew based on all the evidence that he was not done deploying these devices,” Derrickson said. “If he had not been caught, there would have been more.”

In October 2018, Ayers pleaded guilty to weapons of mass destruction and firearm charges and was sentenced in February 2019 to thirty years in prison.

In addition to the collaborative investigation with local partners, the FBI credited the community—understandably on edge as the devices continued to be found—for their vigilance and cooperation. A local church offered its parking lot to serve as the location for the command post, and business owners shared their surveillance footage.

“The citizens of the county were very helpful. They were outstanding in sharing their time, allowing us to review their surveillance cameras, and answering our questions,” Evanina said. “They really did come to our aid and help us in this case.”