A New Jersey man faces both federal and state charges in connection with an explosion at a gym owned by a female couple, and some in the local LGBTQ+ community suspect it was a hate crime.
Dwayne A. Vandergrift Jr., 35, of Gloucester City, was charged Friday by federal authorities with malicious use of explosives, unlawful possession of two destructive devices, and unlawful possession of a short-barreled rifle, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for New Jersey.
Vandergrift was captured on surveillance video placing an explosive device on GCity Crossfit Gym's front door about 4 a.m. August 26, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito told the Essex Daily Voice, a New Jersey newspaper. He then ran away, and the bomb soon went off, damaging the door and shattering its glass.
GCity Crossfit, located in Gloucester City, is owned by married couple Jenai Gonzales and Ann Panarello, Shore News Network reports. A Pride flag hangs outside the gym, which is "known as a safe space" for LGBTQ+ people in the region, the site notes.
The gym is "a known safe-haven in the area for LGBTQ youth," Steven Vitale, owner of athletic apparel company Lifting Culture, wrote on his website. "The owners themselves, many members, and several coaches are also gay. Yet, this facility is also home to people of all ages, ethnicities, and gender identities."
Vitale said the bombing is being investigated as a hate crime, but the U.S. attorney's complaint does not address motive.
Vandergrift was arrested by local police August 28. The Camden County Prosecutor's Office charged him with several violations of state law, "including arson, possession of unlawful weapons and explosives, possession of high-capacity magazines, and various controlled substance offenses," the federal complaint notes.
When federal and local authorities searched Vandergrift's home, they found "substantial quantities of bomb making materials, numerous weapons, including an unregistered short barreled rifle, several tactical vests outfitted with body armor and loaded 30-round ammunition magazines, and a marijuana grow operation containing approximately 85 marijuana plants," according to the complaint. "Upon examining Vandergrift's personal computer devices, investigators discovered that he had recently researched how to construct and utilize various explosive devices, including pipe and pressure cooker bombs."
The FBI, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, the Camden County Sheriff's Office, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Newark Field Division, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, Homeland Security Investigations, and New Jersey State Police were involved in the investigation.
Vandergrift remains in custody; a court date has yet to be set. On the malicious use of explosives charge, he faces a maximum prison term of 20 years and a maximum fine of $250,000. The charges for possession of the unregistered destructive devices and short-barreled rifle carry maximum prison terms of 10 years each and maximum fines of $250,000.