The Parkland, Florida shooting has highlighted the need for law enforcement to take all threats seriously, and Maricopa County AZ did not disappoint. Most church attacks result from one of two things: Domestic violence spill-over and mental illness. In this case, it may have been a deranged man who believed the church was holding his dead wife hostage as a sex slave.
On February 19, 2018, police took a complaint of a man who had threatened to shoot up a church and kill as many people as he could with a machine gun in Maricopa County, AZ. An investigation was immediately launched, and police were alerted to threats made on Facebook, and then a phone conversation that was interpreted from Romanian to English where the caller, identified as Ismaiel Damien, made the threats.
He was arrested a short distance away from the Romanian Church he had threatened armed with a handgun. Apparently police had placed him under surveillance and stopped him before he could carry through on his threat.
“Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said lives were likely saved when deputies acted on a tip and arrested a man who allegedly threatened to shoot as many people as he could inside a church service Sunday.
Ismaiel Damian was arrested Sunday just moments from his arrival at the North Valley Romanian Pentecostal Church located on Happy Valley Road, between 19th Avenue and Seventh Street.
Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone spoke about the arrest Monday during a press conference, calling Damian’s arrest, “an example where a tip from a community member was the most critical aspect to bringing this issue to the attention to law enforcement professionals.”
Penzone said the investigation began on Feb.19 when authorities received a tip about one of Damian’s Facebook posts in Romanian. The person who alerted authorities of Damian’s intentions heard the threats in a phone conversation with Damian.
References were made to a Pentecostal church, although with no direct threats, there were concerning statements that led the detectives to look into his background.
A witness was able to translate a telephone conversation being held over a speakerphone from Romanian into English.
During this conversation, Damian allegedly indicated that he was planning on entering the church to shoot and kill many people with his machine gun.
Detectives monitored Damian until he was leaving for the church and took him into custody.
When Damian was arrested deputies found a handgun in his car.
According to court documents, Damian told investigators he believed the church, as part of a larger organization, was holding his wife as a sex slave. Damian also told investigators his wife has been dead since 2016.
Penzone praised the actions of police professionals after receiving the tip. “They acted responsibly with urgency and stayed on top of this case to ensure that we were going to protect the public.” Penzone continued, “We have to have the trust of the community… we have to have the confidence that when they step up and make information known to us that we act on it. We acted on it and most likely saved lives.”
Damian was taken into custody and booked into the 4th Avenue Jail for misdemeanor use of an electronic communication to terrify, intimidate, threaten, or harass.”