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North Carolina man who brought pipe bomb to church avoids jail time after flood of community letters

A North Carolina man who brought two pipe bomb-like devices to a church earlier this year avoided jail time, after family and community members wrote letters en masse to a local court asking for leniency.

Joshua Wayne Hawyley, 37, of Connelly Springs, pleaded guilty earlier this month in Catawba County Superior Court to three counts of possession of a weapon of mass destruction.

The father was sentenced to three years of supervised probation, a mental evaluation, and barred from possessing firearms and explosives, as well as prevented from contacting the church where he brought explosive devices earlier this year.

“Joshua is a good, caring man and deserves better than this,” his wife Savanah Hawley wrote in a letter to the court, the Hickory Record reported. “His children need him, and he needs his children. Please don’t let him go away for 2.5 years. Jail isn’t the punishment he deserves. He deserves a good doctor and medication.”

“(Joshua Hawley) often fixates on various things, due to his mental status,” local resident Jackie Miller added in a letter of her own. “And at that time he was fixated on making smoke bombs — something he apparently did in his youth.”

The 37-year-old was arrested in May for bringing multiple pipe bombs to Marketplace Church in Mountain View.

The pastor of the church told police Hawley had mental issues and showed up to the church in a “manic state,” telling an employee he brought something for the church and asked security guards where the pastor’s vehicle was, warning the employee the pastor should be careful so the bomb didn’t “blow up in his face,” according to the Morganton News Herald.

No one was injured in the incident.

Joshua Wayne Hawyley, 37, of Connelly Springs, North Carolina, was arrested in May 2023 for bring a pipe bomb-like device to a local church (WBTV screengrab)
Joshua Wayne Hawyley, 37, of Connelly Springs, North Carolina, was arrested in May 2023 for bring a pipe bomb-like device to a local church (WBTV screengrab)

“I think in a house of worship people should feel safe and not feel intimidated,” Catawba County Sheriff Don Brown said at the time of the arrest.

Four months before the pipe bomb incident, Hawyley had been asked to stop attending the church, after members grew uncomfortable with his behaviour, which included showing up to the facility in military-style attire, wearing a body camera and open-carrying guns and knives.

Hawley did not have a formal mental health diagnosis at the time, though family members said in letters to the court they believe he suffers from mental illness including bipolar disorder and border schizophrenia.