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Police: Rhode Island couple claims they made explosives to 'defend’ themselves at protest

Arrests follow vandalism in downtown Woonsocket on Tuesday

Woonsocket Police Department
Woonsocket Police DepartmentHandout

WOONSOCKET, R.I. -- A local couple are charged with making molotov cocktails in reaction to a Black Lives Matter protest held in the city on Wednesday.

Andrew Owens
Andrew OwensWoonsocket Police Department
Lauren Masse
Lauren MasseWoonsocket Police Department

Andrew Owens, 26, and Lauren Masse, 21, “claimed they needed to defend themselves from the march," Police Chief Thomas F. Oates III said Friday.

The Woonsocket Alliance to Champion Hope, or WATCH Coalition, had organized a protest rally and march on Wednesday to protest the death of George Floyd and other Black people who’ve been victims of police brutality.

The event was peaceful, ending at the Woonsocket Police Department, where both the protesters and police chief stood in a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds. That was the amount of time Floyd, lay dying under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer last week.

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Then Thursday morning, the owner of Luc’s Bar and Grille at 541 River St., a half-mile from the protest staging area, discovered the explosives and a bag of gasoline, towels, and a rod left near the trash, Oates said. Detectives traced the explosives to Owens and Masse, who made incriminating statements and expressed dislike for police and protesters, the chief said.

Investigators found that the pair had gone out Tuesday night to buy the supplies at a Walmart in North Smithfield and filled the gas can at a gas station in Cumberland, Oates said.

Nwando Ofokansi, of the WATCH Coalition, said that the protest had been undermined by vicious rumors on social media, that the protesters were “domestic terrorists” who planned to riot at the police station.

“We know our city, and we were intentional in making it as peaceful as possible,” she said. “Knowing the city we live in, we anticipated backlash.”

The police reached out to them beforehand, she said, and the event itself went smoothly.

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Ofokansi said that she hadn’t known about the couple’s arrests or their intentions. She said she was “disappointed, considering who those [explosives] were intended for.”

Masse was arraigned on two felony charges of possession of materials convertible to a bomb; Owens was arraigned on one of those charges and conspiracy. Both posted the $20,000 surety bail.

The couple were apparently motivated by the riots and looting that broke out late Monday night and early Tuesday in Providence. The widespread destruction by vandals -- and social-media chatter that the violence was going to spread to other Rhode Island cities -- sparked Providence, Woonsocket, Cranston, Warwick, and other municipalities to order curfews Tuesday and board up businesses, police stations, and government buildings. Governor Gina M. Raimondo called on the National Guard for help.

Authorities stressed that the rioting Monday night was not about protesting, and local leaders of Black Lives Matter condemned the violence.

Still, the tensions were high and set off a mood, a “mob mentality, the idea that everything is lawless, everyone is doing it so I can do it too," Oates said.

Two local men and a man from Worcester, Mass., were arrested late Tuesday night after they were seen smashing windows downtown.

A witness heard them breaking the glass of a bus enclosure on John Cummings Way, not far from the police station, and heard one say, “It’s about time this gets started,” said Deputy Chief Michael Lemoine.

The men also smashed the window of the Castle luncheonette and were about to heave a cinderblock through the windows of a new Domino’s restaurant when police officers caught them, Lemoine said.

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Joshua Moritz
Joshua MoritzWoonsocket Police Department
John Jannini
John JanniniWoonsocket Police Department
Jonathan Allen
Jonathan AllenWoonsocket Police Department

They arrested Joshua Moritz, 24, and John Jannini, 21, both of Woonsocket, and Jonathan Allen, 25, of Worcester, who had a machete in a sheath and a hatchet at the small of his back, Lemoine said.

All three are charged with vandalism and disorderly conduct, misdemeanors; Allen is also charged with possession of weapons other than firearms.


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.