A Falls Church, Virginia, man has been arrested after police said he was found armed inside a Haymarket church following a series of online threats against the place of worship.
It was Sunday morning when Prince William County Police said a Laurel, Maryland, resident called 911 to report seeing Instagram posts by 35-year-old Rui Jiang which contained “vague threats of violence” along with images of the Park Valley Church.
First Sgt. Jonathan Perok with Prince William County Police said authorities in Anne Arundel County, who received the 911 call, investigated the posts and grew concerned. They then contacted Fairfax County police who responded to Jiang’s home, but he wasn’t there.
“They (Fairfax County Police) alerted us because church services were going on around the time, and these postings are pretty recent within probably about 24 hours,” Perok said.
Jiang wasn’t home, according to police, because he was already inside the church armed with a handgun, an extra magazine and two knives. Jiang has a concealed carry permit, police said.
Not knowing about the threat at the time, Pastor Barry White said as Sunday services went on, his security team was already keeping a close eye on Jiang because he entered the church wearing all black clothing and black sunglasses.
“It was a rainy day; you didn’t really need to wear sunglasses and the fact that he was wearing them and wearing them inside the building … our guys flagged that right off the bat,” White said.
When Prince William County police were alerted, they called off-duty officer Lt. Shawn Peak who happened to be stationed at the church at the time. Peak found Jiang’s car empty, and later, with the help of the church’s security team, caught up with Jiang and detained him near the entrance of the church.
“It was … a miracle of God,” White said about the fact the police officer was at the church at the time.
When it comes to Jiang’s connection to the church, White said it was later determined that Jiang attended a few church events in the summer.
“I noticed that in his social media posts, he was upset with the government and had indicated that he believed a lot of government employees attended our church,” White said.
Jiang is charged with threats of bodily harm and with carrying a dangerous weapon into a place of religious worship.
White said there are many to thank for this situation coming to a peaceful conclusion. This includes the three police departments involved and his security team for following their training and keeping a close eye on Jiang.
White said he would also like to meet and thank who he called the “courageous tipster” who contacted police when they saw the posts.
“They were a huge blessing to us and to our church family,” White said.
White said the church community even has love for the man who was arrested.
“We know that he’s struggling, and we hope that he gets the help that he desperately needs,” White said.