Neighbors say threat suspect seldom seen

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 19, 2009

California Road residents say they had no idea one of theirneighbors was threatening to kill President-elect Barack Obama.Most had no idea 42-year-old Steven Joseph Christopher, who wasarrested and charged Friday with making the threats, was evenliving in the neighborhood.

Christopher, originally from Wisconsin, was seen only once bythe nearest neighbor to 2033 California Road – the residencebelonging to Lena Lock, where Christopher was staying – when hejogged from there to another residence, identified by authoritiesas the residence of Etta Berry, Lock’s aunt, at 1939 CaliforniaRoad.

A female voice answering Lock’s phone Saturday said she wasunavailable and would have no comment concerning herhouseguest.

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Another nearby resident, who also wished to remain anonymous,said a gold-colored car originating from Lock’s residence followedhim while he logged a nearby pine thicket.

He said the car, the driver and passenger whom he could notidentify, sat and watched him from nearby New Salem Church ofChrist and made several passes on the road while he worked. When hecame near the vehicle, he said it sped away.

Christopher’s reclusive manner on California Roadnotwithstanding, it was his online openness that led to his arrestFriday morning by the Secret Service, with assistance from LincolnCounty Sheriff’s Deputies and the Mississippi Bureau ofInvestigation.

After comments he made threatening Obama’s life on an Internetforum, Christopher was arraigned Friday afternoon at the UnitedStates Southern District Court in Jackson and charged with aviolation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 871, which makesit a crime to threaten to kill the president-elect. He faces amaximum penalty of up to five years in federal prison and a$250,000 fine.

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said his deputies securedthe home where Christopher was arrested, and Secret Service agentsremoved some items. The arrest was made without incident.

Rushing said the Secret Service had been in Lincoln County forat least one day before the arrest, learning the area from hisdeputies. His department’s collaboration with the federal agencysworn to protect the president marks the first time suchinter-agency work has resulted in such a high-profile arrest.

“We’ve helped them pick up people on federal warrants before,but this is a first for us,” Rushing said.

Christopher is being held in isolation in the Madison CountyJail, one of few jails in Mississippi that houses federalprisoners. He is scheduled to appear for a bond hearing Thursday infederal court.

John Dowdy, chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s criminaldivision, said the administrator of notifiedauthorities that Christopher was posting comments to the sitestating his intentions to kill Obama.

In his expletive-ridden, anti-Semitic posting, Christopher -using various screen names – stated that he was going to kill Obamafor “the country’s own good,” saying he viewed the president-electas a “sacrificial lamb.” In one contradictory sentence, Christophersaid he wasn’t a racist, but he could not allow “Jewish parasites”to run the country.

Dowdy said the two most-threatening comments were made on Jan.11 and Jan. 14. After obtaining the Internet Protocol numbers – anumerical identification for Internet users – from Christopher’scomputer, federal agents moved in, he said.

“Once we determined the IP address came back to user Lena Lockin Brookhaven, it kind of focused our investigation down into thatarea,” Dowdy said. “We were trying to run out other investigativeleads until we could get what we needed to make the arrest [Friday]morning.”

Dowdy said Christopher’s relationship to Lock and Berry is not amatter of public record. He also said Christopher’s mentalcondition would likely be a subject of inquiry in federalcourt.

Christopher’s neighbors said they would make the same inquiry.Most said they believe his threats against Obama were made to drawattention.

By his own online confession, Christopher was facing an uphillbattle in carrying out his plan.

“So, I’m stuck here in Mississippi, and I’ll need bus fare orsome way of getting to Washington,” Christopher stated on the Website. “I don’t own a gun, so maybe someone can give me one. AndI’ll need … somewhere close to the podium, since I’ve never fireda gun … Wattdysay fellas? Any help?”

After his appearance in court, Christopher gave a televisionreporter some insight into his threats. When asked why hethreatened Obama, he said he was trying to get people’s attention,referring to his death threats as “only bluffs.”

He also exclaimed he had an important message from God -everyone needs to move to Florida by Dec. 31 to take shelter whenthe sun and the moon stop spinning.