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Originally published Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 1:28 PM

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Wenatchee police alerted after terror-plot suspect bought guns

A Chelan County soldier, suspected of murder in Georgia and accused of being the founder of a militia group that was plotting to kill President Obama and overthrow the U.S. government, purchased 15 firearms, including several semiautomatic rifles, at a Wenatchee gun store in September 2011.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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A Chelan County soldier, suspected of murder in Georgia and accused of being the founder of a militia group that was plotting to kill President Obama and overthrow the U.S. government, purchased 15 firearms, including several semiautomatic rifles, at a Wenatchee gun store in September 2011.

It was that purchase, along with a suspicious relative, that first brought Army Pvt. Isaac Aguigui of Cashmere to the attention of local law enforcement, Wenatchee police Sgt. John Kruse said Tuesday.

The relative, who has asked not to be named, told police that Aguigui's wife, who was also a soldier, and the couple's unborn child had died under suspicious circumstances in July 2011 at Fort Stewart, Ga., where they were stationed. The relative also was concerned that Aguigui had purchased more than a dozen firearms, including assault-style weapons, from High Mountain Hunting Supply in Wenatchee.

After checking the report and talking to the gun store, Kruse said police contacted the Army Criminal Investigation Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and the FBI in Spokane. Kruse said he spoke with FBI Senior Special Supervisory Agent Frank Harrill about the incident.

Harrill said Tuesday he could not discuss the investigation. A telephone call to the Army's Criminal Investigation Division headquarters in Virginia was not returned.

"We didn't do much with this," Kruse said. "There had been no crime that we knew of, and it didn't really involve Wenatchee at all."

Moreover, "people buy multiple guns all the time," Kruse said.

The department did issue an "officer safety" bulletin alerting police to Aguigui's presence in the area, that he was under investigation by the Army for his wife's death and that he had recently purchased numerous firearms.

Kruse said Aguigui returned to Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia shortly thereafter.

Aguigui is among four current and former soldiers who are charged with killing a former Army comrade, Washington state native Michael Roark, and his girlfriend to protect the secrecy of the anarchist militia group they formed. Prosecutors in Long County, Ga., say the group was plotting a range of anti-government attacks along with the assassination, including blowing up an as-yet unspecified dam in Washington and poisoning the state's apple crop.

The group also had allegedly purchased land in Washington as a possible base, according to prosecutors.

The operation was being funded by as much as $500,000 Aguigui had received in insurance and death benefits for his wife, Dierdre Wetzker Aguigui. Prosecutors say the group spent $87,000 on firearms and bomb-making components.

Authorities have said they do not know how many members the group had, or whether membership extended beyond the four soldiers who have been charged.

The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, said the militia that Aguigui and the others named F.E.A.R — for "Forever Enduring, Always Ready" — appears to be new.

Isabel Pauley, the prosecutor in Long County, near Fort Stewart, said the militia took itself seriously enough to kill two people — Roark, 19, and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York — by shooting them in the woods last December to keep its plans secret.

Alma Wetzker, the father of Aguigui's late wife, Dierdre Wetzker Aguigui, said the cause of her death at age 24 while five months pregnant remains "undetermined" and under investigation by the Army. Prosecutors in Georgia have called her death "highly suspicious."

Alma Wetzker, who lives in Minneapolis, called his son-in-law "one of the best people I've ever met," but who had "chosen his own path and now must live with that." He said that his daughter met Aguigui at the U.S. Military Academy Prep School in 2009 and that Aguigui was headed for West Point.

"I do not know what happened," he said.

The Army has conceded prosecution of the current and former soldiers allegedly involved in the plot to local authorities in Long County. One of the men, Pfc. Michael Burnett, pleaded guilty Monday to manslaughter charges and has agreed to testify against the others — Aguigui, identified as the militia's founder and leader, and Sgt. Anthony Peden and Pvt. Christopher Salmon. Also charged is Salmon's wife, Heather Salmon.

They are charged with malice murder, felony murder, criminal gang activity, aggravated assault and using a firearm while committing a felony. A hearing for the three soldiers is scheduled for Thursday.

Aguigui was home-schooled in Cashmere, joining the Army after graduation.

Gloria Aguigui, his grandmother in East Wenatchee, said the situation is a "puzzle."

He visited home shortly after his wife died, she said, and did not seem different.

"He's got a good head, he's got plans," she said. "He's going to come home and help his family. We don't know what happened."

A "loose end"

Roark was born in Kirkland and attended high school in Marysville. So far, there is no evidence to indicate he and Aguigui knew one another before joining the Army and serving with the four defendants in the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. He was allegedly lured into the woods and killed two days after he left the Army. Burnett, in testimony, said Aguigui had called Roark a "loose end."

Roark's mother, Tracy Jahr, told KOMO-TV her son died "for standing up for what he knew was right."

She said her son told her last fall he had met someone with a lot of money.

"My mom's radar went up just a little bit and I said, 'Well, who is this person? Where is he from? Where does he live? Tell me more about him,' " Jahr told KOMO.

She said the situation eventually prompted him to leave the Army in December.

"It's not real because it can't possibly be your child that's been killed. It was devastating. It was devastating," Jahr said.

Hatewatch, a publication of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Aguigui's father, Ed Aguigui, had "no clue" as to the location of the land in Washington state that reportedly was purchased by his son and members of his militia group.

"I served my country for 20 years and I honor that, take pride in that," said Ed Aguigui, who spent a career as a U.S. Army combat engineer.

"When they were little kids, they weren't even allowed to have guns," Gloria Aguigui told Hatewatch. "Isaac never got into trouble, and was always helping out." According to The Wenatchee World, Isaac Aguigui represented Washington state in the American Legion Boys Nation held in July 2008 in Washington, D.C.

The Boys Nation is a weeklong citizenship and government program in the nation's capital that is designed to instill in each participant a deep loyalty to America while providing practical insight into the operation of the federal government, officials say.

He also reportedly served as a page during the 2008 Republican National Convention.

The World also reports he was among 21 Republicans who gathered in Wenatchee in October 2008 for the third and final presidential debate.

"When Obama outlined his health-care plan," the newspaper reported, "17-year-old Isaac Aguigui of Cashmere said, 'That makes absolutely no sense.' "

News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which includes information from The Associated Press. Maureen O'Hagan reported from Cashmere, Chelan County.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

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