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Man accused of leaving pipe bombs at church he was asked to stop attending

CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. — A Burke County man is accused of leaving two pipe bombs at a local church.

Investigators said on Sunday around 3 p.m., Joshua Hawley, 37, allegedly brought two pipe bombs to Marketplace Church, which is on Highway 127 south of Hickory in Catawba County. He left the area before officers arrived.

Bomb squads were called in from Gastonia and Gaston County, along with FBI investigators. A robot was then used to search a car parked in front of the church. Court documents show the units removed a bomb from the trunk. Police said the church was evacuated after another one was found inside.

Both devices were rendered safe by the bomb squads, investigators said.

On Monday, Chopper 9 Skyzoom was overhead as law enforcement in tactical gear moved in on the house where Hawley was staying in southern Burke County. He appeared to have a bandage wrapped around one of his hands when he was taken into custody by police and federal authorities.

Court documents show Hawley is accused of bringing one of the pipe bombs for the treasurer and the other for the pastor of the church. He told a church leader Sunday that he had been making bombs and ”working on getting the formula right,” and wanted him and the pastor to have one of the bombs, the documents show.

Nearby businesses were in disbelief after the entrances to a shopping center were shut down for hours Sunday.

“It’s mind-boggling,” said neighbor Ralph Pruitt. “You can’t even go to church anymore without someone coming in and causing problems. It’s happening around the country and we’re all confused with that for sure.”

Channel 9′s Dave Faherty learned Hawley was a member of Marketplace Church. According to court documents, the church’s pastor had asked Hawley four months ago to stop attending because of his behavior, describing him as “dangerous.”

The search warrant says “Josh was coming to church dressed as a [military police officer], with a body camera, open carrying a gun, knives and other tactical gear.”

Hawley’s family released a statement Monday afternoon saying they didn’t believe the pipe bombs were dangerous. The family said they mostly blew out smoke, but added they had a fuse and were filled with sugar, baking soda, stump remover and sodium nitrate.

Hawley is charged with possession of weapons of mass destruction and communicating threats of mass violence at a place of worship. The Catawba County sheriff said he take threats like this seriously.

“I think in a house of worship, that’s where people should feel safe,” Sheriff Don Brown said. “And they shouldn’t feel intimidated or any threats of violence in a place like that. So we certainly take these serious, with past events throughout the country.”

Prosecutors told a judge Tuesday the house where Hawley was arrested was a family member’s home and had children in it. They said when officers searched it, they found a significant amount of bomb-making equipment and bombs.

As his charges were read in court, Faherty could see Hawley repeatedly shaking his head “no.” His bond on the two charges totals $100,000.

The Hickory police chief told Faherty the devices “definitely could have hurt someone, for sure.”

Authorities asked anyone with information to call Hickory police at 828-328-5551, or contact R. Helderman directly at 828-261-2621 or rhelderman@hickorync.gov.

Marketplace released the following statement about Hawley’s arrest:

“Marketplace Church is praying for all those affected by the recent incident regarding two suspicious devices on church property. Upon becoming aware of the devices, a member of our security team, which is provided by Sheepdog Protective Services, immediately notified their law enforcement division. The bomb squad was called in to investigate and the surrounding area was evacuated as a precautionary measure as per our Emergency Action Plan. Thankfully, the devices were safely removed without incident.

“Our church community is grateful for the quick and professional response of the agencies involved, and we are praying for their continued safety as they work to ensure the safety of our community. We also pray for anyone who may have been affected by this incident, including our congregation and the wider community. We know that prayer can provide comfort during difficult times, and we encourage everyone to join us in praying for peace.

“We want to assure our congregation and the community that we will continue to take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our members and visitors. We are grateful for your support and understanding during this challenging time.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

(VIDEO: All-clear given in police investigation in uptown Charlotte)

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