An Iowa City man has been charged with terrorism after police say he left a backpack with incendiary materials and an attached fuse at the Guidelink Center on Tuesday, leading to the evacuation of that building and, later, a downtown apartment complex.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office issued a news release Wednesday afternoon that said 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 being charged by University of Iowa Police with terrorism, a Class B felony, and possession of an incendiary or explosive device from a related investigation.
A criminal complaint filed Wednesday by UI police alleges that, at 9:16 a.m. Tuesday, law enforcement was called to the College of Public Health for a possible incendiary device placed in an exterior electrical outlet that appeared to be singed from where someone attempted to set it on fire.
The device was attached with a bright yellow or green tape, the same that was later found in a backpack left at the Guidelink Center and in Conway’s apartment. Above the outlet on the wall, the word “HELP” was written with what appeared to be soot or ash.
Police say a notebook containing the following statement was found: “Use incendiaries to destroy the electric box by the courthouse.” They say it was signed with Conway’s name.
The Johnson County Metro Bomb Squad confirmed that the device at the College of Public Health caused an “incendiary reaction, but did not cause enough heat to burn through the rubber hose that was a part of the device.”
On Tuesday, the Iowa City Police Department responded to the GuideLink Center on Southgate Avenue after they say Conway came into the building and began physically assaulting staff members.
The release said that, once officers arrived on scene, the suspect continued to be combative with law enforcement officers. Once the suspect was apprehended, he was transported to the hospital for evaluation, 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 that Guidelink Center staff were eventually able to secure it. The complaint said that Conway was taken to the hospital for self-inflicted wounds.
The complaint said that 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 didn’t find him a romantic partner for him within 30 days, that he would take his own life. He also stated, repeatedly, 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 multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Johnson County Metro Bomb Team, responded and safely removed the suspicious package. The release said it contained incendiary materials with an attached fuse.
Later that day, Iowa City Public Safety’s social media announced that portions of East Court Street and South Dubuque Street were being closed down, without an explanation. The news 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 lifted to a third-floor apartment on the southwest side of the building and breaking open the window. Law enforcement stayed on the scene for several hours afterward.
The news release said that items were located in the residence that were consistent with the incendiary materials found at the GuideLink Center.
The apartment complex, a six-story building with 81 units of affordable housing for low-income seniors, was partially evacuated while law enforcement served the search warrant. Residents were given water at the Hyatt Place Hotel down the street by the American Red Cross and Johnson County Public Health.
All residents of the apartment complex were later let back into the building.
Conway changed his name legally from Oskar Bendixon Holmes in December.
The release said additional charges are expected by Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and Iowa City Police Department. A copy of the criminal complaints will be made available on our website Thursday morning.
Johnson County Sheriff Brad Kunkel told the Press-Citizen at the scene of the GuideLink Center on Tuesday that Conway had assaulted an officer during the incident.
The GuideLink Center was closed until Wednesday morning.
Conway is being held at the Johnson County Jail on a $25,000 cash-only bond.
George Shillcock is the Press-Citizen’s local government and development reporter covering Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at (515) 350-6307, GShillcock@press-citizen.com and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge