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DNA on a burrito leads to arrest in firebombing case

Damage is seen in the interior of Madison's Wisconsin Family Action headquarters in Madison, Wis., May 8, 2022.Alex Shur/Associated Press

A Wisconsin man was identified from DNA pulled from a partially eaten burrito and arrested in the firebombing of an anti-abortion lobbying group’s office last year, prosecutors said.

The man, Hridindu Sankar Roychowdhury, 29, of Madison, Wisconsin, was arrested at Logan International Airport in Boston on Tuesday, according to the office of the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin in Madison.

He was charged with one felony count of attempting to cause damage by means of fire or an explosive.

“According to the complaint, Roychowdhury used an incendiary device in violation of federal law in connection with his efforts to terrorize and intimidate a private organization,” Matthew Olsen, assistant attorney general of the national security division of the Justice Department, said in a statement.


Brendan Kelley, a federal public defender for Roychowdhury, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

The investigation stemmed from a fire that was reported about 6 a.m. May 8, 2022, at an office building in Madison. The blaze had been started by a Molotov cocktail.

Inside were the headquarters of Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-abortion group that appeared to be the target of the attack. Police said that they found graffiti spray-painted on the building’s exterior that read, “If abortions aren’t safe then you aren’t either.”

Threatening graffiti is seen on the exterior of Wisconsin Family Action offices in Madison, Wis., May 8, 2022.Alex Shur/Associated Press

No one from the group was in the building at the time of the attack, and no injuries were reported from the fire, which was extinguished by Madison firefighters.

The attack took place nearly a week after the leak of a draft ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that would have overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. The leak led to protests by abortion-rights supporters around the country. In June, the court overturned Roe v. Wade, and the decision led to celebrations by anti-abortion supporters.


Wisconsin Family Action is a nonprofit political advocacy group that promotes conservative policies in the state on several issues, including abortion. The group’s president, Julaine K. Appling, declined to comment when reached by telephone Wednesday.

As part of the investigation, officers obtained DNA samples from three individuals, which had been gathered from evidence found at the scene, but the samples did not match any profiles in a federal database.

In January, officers who were monitoring the state Capitol in Madison for protests related to a police shooting saw several people spray-painting graffiti on the grounds, according to court documents. Some of the graffiti had similarities to the graffiti at the Wisconsin Family Action office.

Further review of footage from the protests showed two people leaving the area in a white pickup truck. Investigators traced the vehicle back to Roychowdhury’s residence in Madison, court documents said, and they began to follow him.

Earlier this month, officers observed him throwing a fast-food bag into a public trash can at a parking lot in Madison. The officers retrieved the bag, which included “a quarter portion of a partially eaten burrito wrapped in waxed paper,” according to court documents.

On March 17, a forensic biologist compared the DNA evidence recovered from the scene of the fire to the DNA collected from the food.

“The forensic biologist found the two samples matched and likely were the same individual,” according to prosecutors.

The U.S. attorney’s office said that Roychowdhury had traveled from Madison this month to Portland, Maine, and that he had a one-way ticket for a flight from Boston to Guatemala City that was scheduled to depart Tuesday morning, when he was arrested.


Roychowdhury appeared in U.S. District Court in Boston on Tuesday and he was being held in custody for his detention hearing Thursday, said a spokesperson for the office of the U.S. attorney. A date had not been set for his appearance in federal court in Madison.

If convicted, Roychowdhury faces a mandatory minimum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum of 20 years, prosecutors said.