An Iowa City man has been charged with terrorism after police say he left a backpack containing incendiary materials and a fuse attached to the Guidelink Center on Tuesday, prompting the evacuation of that building and later , of a downtown apartment complex.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release Wednesday afternoon saying it had arrested and charged Nezzy Underscore Conway, 23, with possession of an incendiary or explosive device, a Class C felony and an outstanding warrant for 4th degree criminal mischief for failing to appear in an unrelated incident. Conway is also charged by University of Iowa police with terrorism, a Class B felony, and possession of an incendiary or explosive device in a related investigation.
A criminal complaint filed Wednesday by Unemployment Insurance Police alleges that at 9:16 a.m. Tuesday, law enforcement was called to the College of Public Health to a possible incendiary device placed in an outdoor electrical outlet that appeared to be scorched from where someone attempted to set it on fire.
The device was tied with a bright yellow or green ribbon, the same that was later found in a backpack left at the Guidelink Center and in Conway’s apartment. Above the socket on the wall, the word “HELP” was written in what appeared to be soot or ash.
According to the police, a notebook containing the following statement was found: “Use arsonists to destroy the electrical box near the courthouse”. They say it was signed with Conway’s name.
The Johnson County Metro Bomb Squad confirmed that the College of Public Health device caused an “incendiary reaction, but did not generate enough heat to burn the rubber hose that was part of the device.”
On Tuesday, the Iowa City Police Department responded to the GuideLink Center on Southgate Avenue after saying Conway entered the building and began physically assaulting staff members.
The statement said that once officers arrived at the scene, the suspect continued to be combative with law enforcement. After the suspect was apprehended, he was taken to hospital for assessment, but a backpack with suspicious contents was left at the scene.
A criminal complaint alleges that law enforcement was told that Conway initially possessed a machete, but Guidelink Center personnel were ultimately able to secure it. The complaint says Conway was taken to the hospital for self-inflicted injuries.
The complaint said information obtained by law enforcement indicated that Conway had been in contact with a former teacher and told them that if the teacher and his mother did not find him a romantic partner within 30 days, he would take his. life. He also said, on several occasions, that hurting other people and using explosive devices was part of his “suicide plan”.
The Guidelink Center was evacuated after law enforcement responded and Southgate Avenue was closed to traffic as several law enforcement agencies, including the Johnson County Subway Bombing Squad, responded and safely removed the suspicious package. The statement said it contained incendiary materials with a fuse attached.
Later that day, Iowa City Public Safety social media reported that portions of East Court Street and South Dubuque Street were closed, without explanation. The press release confirmed that law enforcement was serving a warrant for Conway’s residence at the Capitol House Apartments at 320 S. Dubuque St.
Press-Citizen reporters observed members of a tactical team being transported to a third-floor apartment on the southwest side of the building and opening the window. The security forces remained on the spot for several hours.
The press release said items found at the residence matched incendiary materials found at the GuideLink Center.
The apartment complex, a six-story building with 81 affordable housing units for low-income seniors, was partially evacuated while law enforcement served the search warrant. Residents received water at the Hyatt Place Hotel down the street from the American Red Cross and Johnson County Public Health.
All residents of the apartment complex were then returned to the building.
Conway legally changed his name from Oskar Bendixon Holmes in December.
The statement said additional charges are awaited by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa City Police Department. A copy of the criminal complaints will be available on our website on Thursday morning.
Johnson County Sheriff Brad Kunkel told the Press-Citizen at the GuideLink Center scene on Tuesday that Conway assaulted an officer during the incident.
The GuideLink Center was closed until Wednesday morning.
Conway is being held in Johnson County Jail on $25,000 cash-only bail.
George Shillcock is Press-Citizen’s local government and development reporter covering Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at (515) 350-6307, [email protected] and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge