Feds object to release of man accused of attempting to blow up Jewish assisted living home

An East Longmeadow man facing federal arson charges for allegedly attempting to blow up a Jewish-sponsored assisted living home in Longmeadow was sent home by a federal judge Wednesday despite prosecutors’ objections.

John Michael Rathbun, 36, was released on home confinement by Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson, who took into consideration coronavirus concerns in detention facilities in a hearing, court filings indicate.

Rathbun is accused of leaving a homemade incendiary device April 2 at the entrance of Ruth’s House on Converse Street in Longmeadow, and feds cite a conversation by a white supremacist organization in March on social media in which a user identified the center as a target for a mass killing.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said his office will “aggressively prosecute” anyone engaged in these actions.

Feds say the explosive device was located near a widely used pedestrian walkway approximately 50 yards from Ruth’s House, also located within one square mile of other Jewish facilities including three temples, a private school and a Jewish Community Center.

The device was alleged to be a five-gallon plastic Scepter gas canister filled with liquid believed to be flammable gasoline with a charred Christian religious pamphlet placed in the canister’s nozzle, believed to be an attempt to ignite the gas. Law enforcement also discovered blood stains on the canister handle and pamphlet that were later matched to Rathbun’s DNA profile, feds said.

In a filing Thursday, prosecutors objected to Robertson’s order because Rathbun lives only a “few minutes’ drive” from Ruth’s House and is essentially being put in the same circumstances as the day he allegedly committed the crime.

A public defender for Rathbun declined to comment.

State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, said in a statement he is “both saddened and very angry” at the alleged anti-Semitic act which occurred as assisted living centers also face challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Jewish holiday of Passover, which ends this week, marks the universal story of Exodus, a people who persevere amid unspeakable hardship and win freedom over persecution and slavery,” said Lesser in a statement. “Today, we must call upon that same spirit of redemption to confront evil in our midst and resolve that we, too, will stand for justice.”

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