Top law enforcement officers from the town of Erwin, Unicoi and Washington counties in Tennessee and Madison County, North Carolina, announced the arrests in a joint press conference Tuesday afternoon in Erwin.
Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said 19-year-old Thomas Martin Blaylock, two juvenile boys and two juvenile girls were arrested early Tuesday and confessed their involvement in all of the offenses.
The five are scheduled to face the charges in Unicoi County sessions and juvenile courts on Thursday.
Assistant District Attorney Todd Hull said the charges in the two Tennessee counties will be prosecuted together in Unicoi County. Madison County Sheriff J.E. "Buddy" Harwood said the teens will be extradited to North Carolina after their prosecution here.
Harwood said the North Carolina charges include 34 incidents of mailbox vandalism that stretched from the Shelton Laurel community to Mars Hill. The most serious of those charges involved a mailbox that was was destroyed by an improvised explosive device that resulted in the charge of possession of a weapon of mass destruction.
The most serious of the vandalism charges involved more $4,000 in damage caused to several vans at a church in Washington County that were spray painted and had their tires punctured and windows broken.
The two civil rights intimidation charges involved swastikas and upside-down crosses painted on church property in Unicoi and Washington counties.
Both Hensley and Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal said the crimes committed at the churches added to the intensity of the investigation and would not be tolerated.
“It’s sad when we have all (the violent crime) that is going on with our churches (nationally),” Graybeal said. “We live in the Bible Belt and if you are messing with our churches, we are going to come get you.”
Hensley said the multi-jurisdiction investigation is continuing and, citing the large number of mailboxes that were damaged, expressed certainty that related offenses have not yet been reported.
“There were several mailboxes that were beat up ...” Hensley said. “We urge everyone who has had their mailbox damaged to come forward. We’ll be glad to do a report,” he said.
Hensley said more crimes possibly related to the case are also under investigation in Yancey County, North Carolina. He said the civil rights intimidation charges may give rise to the prosecution of other hate crime charges and the possession of weapon of mass destruction charge in North Carolina may be transferred for federal court prosecution.
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