Federal prosecutors on Monday charged a Columbia, Missouri, resident with setting a fire at the Planned Parenthood clinic in that city that led to its closure for a week.
Wesley Brian Kaster, 42, was accused of one count of maliciously damaging, by means of fire or an explosive, a building owned by an organization that receives federal funding.
Kaster was arrested Saturday and is in federal custody, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri.
Court records uncovered by KCUR reveal that Kaster filed for bankruptcy in April 2014, listing assets of about $148,000 and liabilities of nearly $169,000. At the time, he was a senior reactor operator at the University of Missouri Research Reactor, the nation’s largest university-run research reactor, and had worked there for five-and-a-half years, according to court records.
Christian Basi, a spokesman for the university, confirmed that Kaster worked at the reactor from December 2008 until August 2016. He said he was unable to provide further information about Kaster's employment, citing university policy regarding employees.
Kaster’s bankruptcy attorney declined to comment.
Kaster was making $6,940 a month when he declared bankruptcy, according to his bankruptcy filing. The filing stated he had credit card balances of around $34,000.
Other court records show Kaster obtained a divorce in 2010. At the time, he had four children.
Kaster currently works as a floor supervisor in the welding shop of a light manufacturing business in Jefferson City, according to a probable cause affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Curtis J. Bryant.
The affidavit, which was filed with the criminal complaint, states that investigators searched social media accounts associated with Kaster and found a picture posted to the Facebook page of his wife depicting a handgun with the words, “Guns Don’t Kill People, Planned Parenthood Kills People.”
Other items of evidence collected at Kaster’s home on Saturday definitively tied him to the crime scene, Bryant’s affidavit states.
Brandon J. Hill, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates the clinic in Columbia, told KCUR that Planned Parenthood was unfamiliar with Kaster.
“Unfortunately, we’re in a moment in time in Missouri where there’s a lot of public hostility toward Planned Parenthood, particularly in Columbia. And so it’s not uncommon to see those kinds of comments pop up,” Hill said, referring to the Facebook posting.
“But I think this is a particular time in Missouri in general where some of this rhetoric is starting to move into actual action. And I think there’s no doubt there’s connectivity there.”
The FBI had offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever set the fire. The bureau said it was investigating the fire as a hate crime.
Prosecutors have asked the court to order Kaster detained in jail pending trial, saying he poses a danger to the community and is a flight risk. The court has scheduled a hearing on March 7.
Kaster is represented by the Federal Public Defender’s office in Jefferson City. His attorney could not be reached for comment.
The Planned Parenthood fire was set around 4 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 10. By the time the Columbia Fire Department responded, the blaze had been extinguished by the building’s sprinkler system. No one was in the building at the time.
Bryant’s affidavit provides these additional details:
Surveillance video showed the suspect at around 2:30 a.m. parking a Toyota Sienna minivan missing a right front hubcap. He broke the glass front door, placed a bucket inside and threw a Molotov cocktail-type device inside.
The suspect stood outside for a while, then entered the building through the broken door. After two unidentified pedestrians approached, he fled, then drove his vehicle away.
He returned around 4 a.m., walking to the front door with “an undiscernible item.” At 4:03 a.m., smoke began billowing through the broken door and he fled again.
The fire department received the fire alarm at the building around 4:05 a.m. Evidence collected by firefighters included two five-gallon buckets, one lying inside the other, containing gasoline. They also recovered the remains of a Molotov cocktail.
Investigators identified Kaster after combing through vehicle registration records and records from Lowe’s of recent purchases of five-gallon buckets. Surveillance videos from Lowe’s purchase captured Kaster’s face and physical features.
The Columbia clinic does not provide abortion services. After a federal judge last month refused to block a Missouri law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, Missouri now has just one abortion provider – Planned Parenthood’s clinic in the St. Louis area.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.