Federal authorities have charged a man with a bomb attack on a gym owned by a same-sex couple which was a haven for LGBT+ youth.
The bomb went off at around 4am on 26 August at the door of GCity Crossfit Gym in Gloucester City, New Jersey.
Fortunately, nobody was injured, but the device damaged the door, shattering its glass. It also shredded the gym’s rainbow flag.
Now federal authorities have charged 35-year-old Dwayne A Vandergrift with the crime. They claim CCTV shows him placing the device at the door before running away.
The US Attorney’s Office for New Jersey confirmed he faces charges of malicious use of explosives, unlawful possession of two destructive devices and possessing a short-barreled rifle.
But the the married same-sex couple Jenai Gonzales and Ann Panarello who own GCity Crossfit Gym continue to show their Pride.
Some in the local LGBT+ community suspect the bomber targeted them because of the rainbow flag they flew. It remains on the premises, tattered but still flying proudly.
Moreover, they are apparently determined to keep a large LGBT+ Pride Flag flying at the gym.
Moreover their boarded-up door now boasts the defiant message: ‘Glass shatters, we don’t.’ It adds ‘Thank you Gloucester City’ and signs off with rainbow love hearts.
‘Safe-haven in the area for LGBTQ youth’
Steven Vitale, owner of athletic apparel company Lifting Culture, is now raising money to support repairs to the gym.
He said: ‘The FBI and ATF are currently investigating the explosion.
‘Due to the large gay Pride flag hanging on the door where the bomb was placed and other factors, this crime is being investigated as a hate crime.
‘G-City Crossfit had, and will continue to have, a large gay-pride flag displayed prominently in their front door.
‘They are a known safe-haven in the area for LGBTQ youth. The owners themselves, many members, and several coaches are also gay. Yet, this facility is also home to people of all ages, ethnicities, and gender identities.
‘Their small establishment perfectly exemplifies everything we all love about Crossfit – community, acceptance, and respect for all.
‘They provide an exceptional youth program, promote health and wellness within their community, and are forever welcoming to anyone that walks into their doors.
‘The world is in a state of what feels like constant turmoil, but for a period of time we believed there was more overall acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Clearly, there is still hate and misunderstanding.’
Suspect faces multiple jail terms
While Vitale suggests it may have been a hate crime, the US attorney’s office has not yet confirmed the motive.
However, the federal complaint lays down details of the case against Vandergrift. At one point, officers say, he had told his mother he intended to die by ‘suicide by cop’. However he later surrendered to police once they had him surrounded.
Meanwhile, entering his home, investigators found bomb making materials, ‘approximately twelve firearms’ and ‘ballistic body armor’ among other items. He also had ‘approximately 85 marijuana plants’.
Vandergrift remains in custody and is awaiting a court date. If found guilty of the explosive charges, he faces 20 years jail. He could also go to prison for 10 years for each of the destructive devices and the short-barreled rifle.