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Suspect in neo-Nazi murders tells of anger problem, says 'I might be kind of sick' (w/video)

A screenshot from a Tampa police video interrogation shows Devon Arthurs talking with Detective Kenneth Nightlinger. Arthurs, 18, is accused of murdering his two roommates, Jeremy Himmelman, 22, and Andrew Oneschuk, 18. Police said Arthurs claimed he killed the pair because they had disrespected his conversion to Islam. Arthurs' attorneys have raised the possibility that he might be mentally ill. A court hearing is scheduled Thursday to take up the matter of his competency to stand trial. Last month, a judge ordered a psychological exam.
Published Jan. 31, 2018

TAMPA — Before lawyers first suggested that Devon Arthurs might be mentally ill, the 18-year-old double-murder suspect was questioning his own sanity.

Seated in an interrogation room hours after he was arrested in the deaths of his two roommates, Arthurs told two Tampa police detectives he needed professional help.

"I wish I went to the hospital before this," he said. "I wish I had listened to my family and followed, like, what they were recommending me to do."

And, in another exchange, he said, "I'm very prone to getting angry a lot. I'm very to the point where I think I might be kind of sick in that sense. I want to get help for that."

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office released the video interrogation last week along with several other recordings that are part of their case against Arthurs. Prosecutors say he used an assault rifle to kill Jeremy Himmelman, 22, and Andrew Oneschuck, 18, in the Tampa Palms condominium they shared with a fourth man.

A court hearing is scheduled Thursday to take up the matter of Arthurs' competency to stand trial. Last month, a judge ordered a psychological exam.

It appears that's what Arthurs wanted when he spoke to police.

"When I go to the jail," he asked the detectives, "can I please speak to the doctors?"

• • •

It was late afternoon on a rainy Friday, May 19, when Arthurs strolled into the leasing office of the Hamptons at Tampa Palms condominiums.

He said something to Amanda Hunter, a fellow resident, that left her uneasy, according to the released materials. Some of his words have been redacted. Public records laws exempt certain content from disclosure, including the substance of confessions.

He seemed in shock, she said. She wondered if he had hit a pedestrian.

Before walking off, he also said, "Cherish your children and families, because you never know when you'll be able to lose them," Hunter recalled.

She was afraid he would pull out a gun, she said.

Arthurs then went to the Green Planet Smoke Shop and did just that, according to witness interviews. He ordered an employee and two customers to the floor and held them for several minutes, ranting about Islam and breaking merchandise.

Two officers arrived and convinced Arthurs to surrender. He introduced himself as "Khalid."

After he was handcuffed, he told officers his roommates were dead, police said. He led them to the nearby condo, where they found Himmelman and Oneschuk in a bedroom. Each had been shot multiple times.

Investigators later discovered bomb-making chemicals and other materials in the adjacent garage. The items belonged to the fourth roommate, Brandon Russell, who arrived home shortly before police discovered the murder scene.

Russell, 22, had nothing to do with the killings, police said. But he admitted owning the illegal materials. A judge sentenced him to five years in prison.

As Arthurs sat in the back of a patrol car watching police and firefighters swarm the condo, he noticed a piece of night vision equipment.

"We have those in Mosul," he told an officer. "We use them for night ops and stuff like that."

He spoke as if he was a member of the Islamic terrorist group ISIS. The cop asked if he had ever been overseas.

"They closed the door to jihad for me over there," Arthurs said. "So I figured I'd do it over here. But I wanted to do it within reason. Generally, like, speaking, the amount of bureaucracy in the United States is its biggest problem."

Arthurs began to ramble.

Later, while being held in a cell at Tampa police headquarters, he made small talk with two officers assigned to watch him. He asked why they decided to become cops. He told them he wanted to be part of Islamic religious police.

"I would have loved doing that," he said. "Unfortunately that sailed. Not with today, but because it's almost impossible for an American to get there now.

"Honestly, I'm content and happy with where I'm at right now. I can deal with this for as long as God wills it."

He continued to ramble. A heavy metal gate clanked open. An officer directed Arthurs as she took swabs of his hands. She asked if he had any hobbies.

"I like to go hiking," he said. "I like to go shooting. I like to read. ... I like to pray."

After she left, Arthurs spoke in a disjointed, tangential stream of consciousness about Islam and terrorism and American foreign policy and opioids and right-wing extremists. He ranted against marijuana and gay pride parades.

• • •

Detectives moved Arthurs into the interrogation room after 1 a.m. In a video, he appears slightly disheveled, his brown hair mussed, a green polo shirt open at the collar.

He fidgeted with handcuffs around his wrists as he gave long-winded responses to questions. In moments of apparent stress, he rubbed his temples, or gulped from a water bottle.

"If I could go back and do something over," he said, "I would sign myself into a hospital and work on my anger issues and my rational thinking skills."

He told Detective Kenneth Nightlinger he dropped out of school in the 10th grade. He'd been living at the condo for about a month and a half. He had been looking for a job in Tampa, but was having a hard time.

"I think I'd much rather be at a mental hospital, where I should have been," he said. "Because my family has been telling me to go to a hospital. ... Obviously, I don't feel like I'm capable of living day to day like any normal citizen."

He explained how he and Russell had established a small-time neo-Nazi group known as Atomwaffen Division. He said Himmelman and Oneschuk were members.

He claimed Russell had plans to attack power lines and a nuclear power plant to further a white supremacist agenda. Russell was never charged with any terrorism-related crimes.

Arthurs said he had discovered the Koran a year earlier. After converting to Islam, he considered abandoning his friends, but feared retaliation.

Nightlinger asked if anyone guided Arthurs in his new faith.

"Self-taught," he said.

He said he tried to convince other Atomwaffen members to drop their racist beliefs.

The day of the killings, Arthurs said he considered returning to Orlando to be with his family. He was becoming irritated by white supremacist banter in Internet chats, he said. He thought about contacting the FBI.

"In hindsight, it's very stupid what I've done," he said. "This all feels very surreal, like a dream."

TAMPA BAY TIMES PREVIOUS COVERAGE

Neo-Nazi Florida National Guard soldier gets five years in prison on bombmaking charges (Jan. 9, 2018)

Former neo-Nazi won't face death penalty if convicted of killing roommates in Tampa (Aug. 10, 2017)

National Guard 'neo-Nazi' aimed to hit Miami nuclear plant, roommate says (June 13, 2017)

Arrest of 'neo-Nazi' soldier highlights extremists' links to U.S. military (June 12, 2017)

Families dispute claims that slain Tampa Palms roommates shared neo-Nazi beliefs (May 25, 2017)

Roommates in Tampa Palms slaying case never outgrew Nazi sympathies, friend says (May 23, 2017)

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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