Federal prosecutors take over case against man charged with threatening Virginia church

Feb 27, 2024, 1:24 PM | Updated: 1:30 pm

MANASSAS, Va. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have taken over the case against a northern Virginia man arrested last year on suspicion he was about to embark on a mass shooting at a megachurch.

Local prosecutors in Prince William County on Tuesday dropped charges against Rui Jiang, 35, of Falls Church, including a charge of attempted aggravated murder against multiple persons. That clears the way for his prosecution at U.S. District Court in Alexandria, where Jiang was recently charged with making interstate threats.

A conviction on federal charges can often result in longer prison sentences than a conviction on state charges, though not always.

Jiang was arrested Sept. 24 at the Park Valley Church in Haymarket, where a police officer found that Jiang had entered the church during Sunday services armed with a handgun and a knife. Police were acting on a tip they had received just hours earlier, and agencies credited the fast cooperation between multiple police departments in preventing a possible tragedy.

A 33-page affidavit filed last week in federal court contains new details about the fast-moving investigation that day.

The initial tip came from a woman who had met Jiang on a dating app earlier in 2023, the affidavit said. The woman had stopped communicating with Jiang months earlier, but saw social media posts that she deemed alarming, including vague threats against the church saying, “Blood will be on your hands,” and photos of a burning Bible.

Police in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, interviewed the woman the morning of the 24th and quickly reached out to Fairfax County Police, who checked for Jiang at his home, according to the affidavit.

When officers couldn’t find him, they reached out to Prince William County Police. According to the affidavit, an off-duty officer who was working a traffic detail at the church was alerted. By then, church security personnel had already spotted Jiang and were concerned by his behavior, which included tapping on glass and other actions that appeared to be “casing the church,” the affidavit said.

Church security was escorting Jiang from the building just as the officer approached the front of the church. The officer interviewed, disarmed and detained Jiang before he was formally arrested.

According to the affidavit, Jiang had been a member of the church since April and had given the church a donation of more than $450 in June as part of a tithing challenge. Two days before his arrest, he sent an email to the church demanding a refund, saying his life had become worse since he made the donation. The church gave Jiang his money back the next day, according to the affidavit.

Police searched Jiang’s home, and found multiple copies of a one-page typed note in which Jiang claimed he had been a government assassin for more than a decade, and said, “To the families of those men about to be slain – I am sorry for what I have done and about to do.”

He also said that he did not intend to harm any women and apologized in advance for any “collateral damage” against women. He said that he had been unable to “experience a romantic relationship.”

In interviews with police, Jiang told officers he was mad at God but denied that he planned to kill anyone. He admitted he was armed inside the church but said he has a concealed carry permit and is frequently armed.

Tracey Lenox, the public defender who was appointed to represent Jiang in Prince William County, said after Tuesday’s hearing that she was disappointed that the case has been designated for federal prosecution and wished it could have been resolved in state court. She declined to comment in detail about the evidence or about Jiang’s mental health, but said she believes Jiang has “good defenses” against the charges.

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Federal prosecutors take over case against man charged with threatening Virginia church