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Montana man who shot at LGBTQ community sentenced to 18 years

John Russell Howald was sentenced to 18 years in jail on Wednesday for shooting at members of Basin's LGBTQ community. Photo courtesy of Montana Department of Corrections/Record
John Russell Howald was sentenced to 18 years in jail on Wednesday for shooting at members of Basin's LGBTQ community. Photo courtesy of Montana Department of Corrections/Record

June 15 (UPI) -- A 46-year-old man convicted of hate crimes for shooting at LGBTQ members of his small Montana community has been sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment, prosecutors said.

John Russell Howald was sentenced Wednesday, more than three years after he attempted to go on a shooting spree through his town of Basin, home to a few hundred people located about 32 miles north of Butte.

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"This defendant is being held accountable for his horrific attempted mass shooting against the LGBTQI+ community in a Montana town," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

Prosecutors said that on March 22, 2020, Howald, armed with two assault rifles, a hunting rifle, two pistols and multiple high-capacity magazines taped together for quick reloading, went on mission to rid Basin of its gay and lesbian residents.

During his attempted rampage, he walked down the street and shot multiple rounds from his AK-style rifle into the home of a woman he knew to be a lesbian, and thinking he had killed her walked toward other properties he knew to be occupied by members of the minority group.

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His mass shooting was interrupted when Howald was stopped by people who had exited into the street from a local church following the end of service.

Prosecutors said those who had left the church recognized Howald and approached him. According to the Justice Department, the local residents had heard Howald talk of his mission and saw his weapons and attempted to talk him down while a pastor recorded the conversation on a device he had on his person.

The recording captured Howald stating that he hoped he had killed the woman he shot at in her home and that he was going to rid the town of its LGBTQ members. It also captured the sound of gunfire as Howald let off several rounds during the conversation.

As the residents stalled Howald, a Jefferson County Sheriff's Office deputy arrived on the scene. Howald turned his weapon on the deputy but before a shootout ensued, he fled into nearby hills. He was arrested the following day.

Howald was convicted of multiple hate crimes on Feb. 17, with Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Morris sentencing him to 18 years' imprisonment plus five years' supervised released on Thursday.

"Howald fired multiple shotd into someone's home based solely on her sexual orientation and only the heroic and brave actions of residents and law enforcement, as well as some good fortune, prevented a targeted mass shooting," U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich for the District Of Montana said in a statement.

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"It is the kind of conduct that has no place in Montana, which is why our office vigorously prosecuted Howald and why the justice system is holding him accountable for his actions."

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