Airlines Strive to Clear Stuck Fliers After Chicago Fire

The man charged with setting fire to a Chicago-area air-traffic facility, paralyzing travel through the city’s two major airports, was consumed by the U.S. government’s “immoral and unethical acts,” according to a Facebook message under his name.

The posting, which includes references to being under the influence of drugs, calls government workers “lazy and useless” and said the government “would rather take care of itself and the money in the world, definitely not its people.”

It was posted on the account of Brian Howard, 36, at about 5:36 a.m. local time yesterday, minutes before firefighters were called to the Federal Aviation Administration center in Aurora, Illinois.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation in a search-warrant affidavit yesterday quoted from the post, which it attributed to Howard, without mentioning the anti-government content. Bloomberg News received the complete message from a family member of one of Howard’s Facebook friends. The person who provided it asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to release it.

Joan Hyde, an FBI spokeswoman in Chicago, said in an e-mail that the affidavit contained only a portion of the Facebook posting. She said she couldn’t comment on any passages beyond the excerpts contained in yesterday’s court document.

Howard, 36, of Naperville, Illinois, faces a single felony count of setting fire to an air-navigation facility, according to a copy of the criminal complaint filed in Chicago and provided by the FBI.

‘Hate Us’

The fire forced the evacuation of the control center, briefly shut down all arrivals and departures at O’Hare International Airport -- the second busiest U.S. hub -- and Midway Airport, and continued to hamper travel today.

Southwest Airlines Co., which has 90 percent of departures at Midway, canceled all flights there between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

“WAKE UP!” said the message to those authorized to read what’s been identified as Howard’s Facebook page. “This is a gov’t by the people, for the people and of the people which right now equates to immoral and unethical acts. That’s why terrorists and 3rd world nations hate us, because our tax dollars go to more unrest than rest.”

“So we deserve the retribution from people who do not have the same ability for education, work and way of life,” the writer said.

“Take a hard look in the mirror, I have,” the poster continued in a portion of the message quoted by the FBI. “And this is why I am about to take out ZAU and my life.”

ZAU is the three-letter identifier for the FAA’s Chicago Air Route Center in Aurora, one of the busiest U.S. air traffic-control facilities, overseeing high-altitude traffic across four Midwest states that also include Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Blood Trail

When a paramedic responding to the fire found Howard after following a trail of blood, he was “in the process of actively slicing his throat” with one of at least three knives found in the basement area where the blaze occurred, according to the FBI affidavit.

Howard told paramedics who started treating him for his wounds to “leave me alone,” according to the affidavit.

The Facebook message suggested the damage to the nation’s aviation system wouldn’t be severe.

“The outage I’m about to take should not take a large toll on the air space as all comms should be switched to the alt location which will most likely cause some delays,” the message stated.

‘Stoned, Nervous’

“That being said, who knows what else will become a factor due to gov’t employees being in control of the upcoming situation. Many of them live up to exactly how they are viewed by the public, lazy and useless. But that is what I have come to observe of most US Citizens, lazy,” the writer said, referencing being “stoned and nervous.”

The note listed family members and closed with: “I love you guys and I am sorry. Leaving you with a big mess. Do your best to quickly move on from me please.”

“So I’m gonna smoke this blunt and move on, take care everyone,” the message said.

Howard, who worked on telecommunications, was employed at the control center for eight years and recently learned that he was being transferred to Hawaii, according to the criminal complaint.

He worked for FAA contractor Harris Corp., according to Jessica Cigich, a spokeswoman for the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union. While PASS doesn’t represent Harris employees, it includes about 11,000 FAA employees, including some who maintain air-traffic equipment.

If convicted, he faces as long as 20 years in prison and a fine of as much as $250,000, Hyde said.

Surveillance Camera

Like other contract employees with access to FAA’s air-traffic facilities, Howard would have had to pass a background check, a government employee said in an e-mail. The official, who wasn’t authorized to talk about the agency’s security policies, asked not to be identified.

A surveillance camera showed Howard arriving at the control tower shortly after 5 a.m. carrying a hard-sided roller-board suitcase. The Facebook message, which an unidentified relative forwarded to police, was posted about 30 minutes later, according to the court filing.

At about 5:45 a.m., emergency personnel were notified of a fire at the control center, according to the complaint charging Howard.

Paramedics went to the basement of the control tower, where they followed smoke to a trail of blood that led to a floor panel which had been pulled away, exposing telecommunications cables and other wires, according to the filing. They also found a gasoline can and towels that had been soaked.

Howard remains hospitalized in Aurora, Hyde said. No court date has been set.

The case is U.S. v. Howard, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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