The suspect in Saturday’s deadly vehicle incident in Charlottesville, James Fields Jr., may have intended to send a message — and not just harm the immediate victims, according to a Justice Department official familiar with the investigation. The official says that while Fields’ motive is not yet clear, federal investigators have gathered enough evidence to be suspicious that he wanted to send a message.
This point will be important in determining whether the case gets deemed a domestic terrorism case; domestic terrorism includes criminal acts that are dangerous to human life and appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.
Investigators are also working to determine if others may have been involved in planning the attack, according to the official.
While the District Attorney’s Office has already charged Fields with multiple offenses, including second degree murder, federal charging decisions have not been made because investigators are still gathering evidence to determine whether federal hate crime charges are applicable, according to the official.
The Justice Department and FBI have devoted a massive amount of manpower to the case, with scores of federal officials working with local law enforcement partners in Charlottesville, and also in Maumee, Ohio, where Fields lived, according to the official.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was in contact with FBI Director Chris Wray on Saturday, as well as state law enforcement officials, is fully engaged with and supportive of this investigation, according to the official.
The length of an investigation like this is determined by the specifics of the matter being investigated. This is a large-scale investigation with multiple victims, numerous potential witnesses, and potential electronic evidence, the official said.
Acting United States Attorney Rick Mountcastle, along with his staff and career staff at DOJ’s Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section, are handling the investigation. Federal and local law enforcement officials are working together to gather evidence and determine whether the matter should proceed in the federal or state system, or whether parallel investigations are warranted.
The official noted that the Justice Department has brought multiple hate crime cases during the Trump administration, including the hate crime charges recently brought against Adam Purinton in Olathe, Kansas, who opened fire on two Indian nationals and a bystander who attempted to intervene, the official said. One of the victims was killed and the other two were seriously wounded. Federal charges against Purinton were filed on June 9, 2017.