Clarence terrorism suspect's next-door neighbors living in fear

Clarence terrorism suspect's next-door neighbors living in fear

CLARENCE — Hope O'Neill's three children — ages 11, 8 and 7 — still insist on sleeping together in the same room these days.

Life in the O'Neill household hasn't been quite the same since Feb. 19, when federal agents showed up at their door at 104 N. Main Road and asked to search their property. Found in a small red shed behind the O'Neills' one-story house were two black bags — each containing homemade explosive devices.

Fear, worry and anger set in.

But almost immediately, the 29-year-old O'Neill and her husband, Jon-Michael, also became suspicious. They suspected that a neighbor had planted the crude pipe bombs there — the same neighbor who had put a gun to Jon-Michael O'Neill's head several months earlier.

"There ain't nobody else" who would have done it, she said. "I don't have no enemies who would plant bombs in my yard."

The neighbor to whom the O'Neills were referring is Michael B. Hari, the alleged leader of a homegrown domestic terrorism group who was arrested in March in connection with a mosque bombing in Minnesota and the attempted bombing of a women's health clinic in Champaign.

Although Hari and three other members of his anti-government militia remain in federal custody, O'Neill and her family continue to live with worry. O'Neill said she still sometimes has trouble sleeping, wondering if other militia groups with whom Hari had contact may retaliate against her family.

Meanwhile, her children still refuse to sleep in separate rooms.

"It's hell, pretty much," O'Neill said.

O'Neill said it was like a scene from a television show or movie when she, her husband and children arrived home that February day to find federal agents and Ford County sheriff's deputies at their door, responding to an anonymous tip received by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"They asked if they could search, and I was like, 'Of course; let me get the kids in the house,'" O'Neill recalled. "And we started walking around the property and went to the red barn and opened the doors and there was two black bags, and I didn't know what they were. ... I have all these neighborhood kids come over and play, and they bring bags full of their plastic guns and BBs and all that, so that's what I figured it was — that some kid had left their stuff."

A federal agent then asked O'Neill to open one of the bags.

"I'm like, 'Sure, no problem,'" she said. "I open it, and there was just jars — I mean, I thought it was like moonshine in the jars ... but it was not. It was a pipe bomb. I mean, it had electrical tape all around them and a fuse hanging out the ends of them."

The federal agent then asked O'Neill to open the second bag.

"I told her I wasn't opening it, because I didn't know what the first bag was so I wasn't opening the next bag," O'Neill said. "So she opened the next bag, and there was Brillo and plastic bags and detonators and timers and propane tanks and pipes.

"That was it for me. I told (the agent) I didn't know what it was. I started crying."

The University of Illinois bomb squad later arrived and detonated the several explosive devices found on the O'Neill property — "like five, six of them," O'Neill said.

The O'Neills watched the whole episode from across the street.

"One by one, here come the robots, and I asked the agent, 'Are we getting arrested?'" O'Neill said. "And she's like, 'No, not at this time.' And I'm like, 'OK.' And she's like, 'You just need to stay visible.' And I'm like, 'OK,' so we had to stand across the street in the damn pouring rain. It sucked."

They would find out less than a month later that Hari and his militia members were suspected of alleged terrorism.

Besides the 47-year-old Hari, federal agents also arrested Michael McWhorter, 29, Joe Morris, 22, and Ellis "E.J." Mack, 18, all of Clarence. All four were charged with possession of a machine gun, with all but Mack suspected of taking part in the two terrorism acts in Minnesota and Champaign.

It was in July 2017 when Hari, amid an argument with Jon-Michael O'Neill over Hari's loose dogs, allegedly used an "arm-bar takedown" maneuver on O'Neill to restrain him, then pressed an airsoft handgun against the back of his head as he was being held face-down against the back of Hari's car. After a witness intervened and separated the two, more words were exchanged between the two men, and Hari then allegedly attacked him again. Hari ended up being charged with unlawful restraint and battery in Ford County Circuit Court.

Hope O'Neill said she hopes Hari and the three other militia members who were arrested spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

"I'm sorry, you're 18, you're 22, you're 29 and you're 47, but you don't need to come out in this world. You don't," she said. "If (the pipe bombs found in my shed) would have gone off, they said it was enough to kill every single person (in my household). That's six of us, because my mom stays here because she has MS in her brain.

"If I had a day where I could go talk to them, the only question I would ask is, 'What were you thinking and why?' That's it. Nothing else. I don't even need to hear an apology; I just want to know why.

"I understand (Hari) wanted to get Jon in trouble because of what happened" last summer, Hope O'Neill said, "but (Hari is) the one who put (himself) in that predicament when (he) pulled the damn gun on him to begin with."

Will Brumleve is editor of the Ford County Record, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit fordcountyrecord.com.

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