Bomb threat ‘was a pre-planned act ... that terrorized our community’ prosecutor says

Suspect in movie theater bomb threat appears in court

Ryan Nolan MacFarlane, 27, appeared in Whatcom Superior Court on Monday, April 29, 2019, after allegedly making a bomb threat during an "Avengers: Endgame" movie showing at the Regal Cinemas theater on Sunday, April 28, 2019.
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Ryan Nolan MacFarlane, 27, appeared in Whatcom Superior Court on Monday, April 29, 2019, after allegedly making a bomb threat during an "Avengers: Endgame" movie showing at the Regal Cinemas theater on Sunday, April 28, 2019.

The Bellingham man accused of making a bomb threat Sunday afternoon at the Regal Cinemas movie theater pre-planned his threat, according to charging documents filed at his first appearance Monday in Whatcom County Superior Court.

Ryan Nolan MacFarlane, 27, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of threats to bomb property. Formal charges are expected to be filed within several days. Bomb threats are a Class B felony, for which the maximum penalty is up to 10 years in prison.

Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey said he saw MacFarlane, who moved from Florida several months ago, as a flight risk because he has no ties to the community. Richey said MacFarlane is known to be transient in Whatcom County.

“This was a pre-planned act. This was something that just terrorized our community, and our community has expressed a great amount of fear over the last 24 hours,” Richey said.

He asked for bail to be set at $25,000.

Whatcom County public defense attorney Mamie Lackie said MacFarlane has no previous criminal history and shouldn’t be considered a flight risk. She said that while there was the possibility of substantial risk to the community, MacFarlane is presumed innocent of the offense. She asked for bail to be set at $5,000.

Court Commissioner David Thorn set bail at $25,000, saying it was appropriate due to the allegation against MacFarlane.

“I have no reason to think you’ll leave us, but the reality is the allegation is so serious that the substantial risk to the community is there,” Thorn said.

Court Commisioner David Thorn speaks to Whatcom COunty Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey during during Ryan Nolan MacFarlane’s first appearance at the Whatcom County Superior Court in Bellingham on Monday. MacFarlane was accused of making a bomb threat Sunday at the Regal Cinemas movie theater. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Evacuating the theater

MacFarlane’s threat caused approximately 3,000 people to be evacuated from the theater, which temporarily closed due to the incident, Bellingham Police Lt. Claudia Murphy told The Bellingham Herald. No one was injured from the bomb threat or the evacuation of the theater complex.

An afternoon showing of the “Avengers: Endgame” movie was in its final scenes when MacFarlane stood up with a backpack on and began “(prophesying) about God,” according to charging documents. MacFarlane, who was wearing a camouflage jacket, jeans and tactical black boots, allegedly said “this bomb will help you get to the end,” court documents state.

An armed bystander unholstered a concealed firearm he had, because he believed MacFarlane was going to harm people, court records state. The man told Bellingham police he never pointed his gun at anyone and tried to keep it concealed behind his back, court records state.

The armed man then followed MacFarlane out of the theater. He identified himself, told MacFarlane he was armed and to kneel until police arrived. MacFarlane complied and was taken into custody without further incident, according to Bellingham police.

“The crowd in the (theater) were caused extreme fear and all tried to exit at the same time,” court records state. “It was described to me as pandemonium by another witness.”

MacFarlane’s backpack was isolated in the parking lot until the Bellingham Police Hazardous Devices Unit could examine it. The entire cinema was evacuated and searched by Bellingham police’s explosive detection dog, Marley. Marley did not find any explosives inside the theater or backpack, according to Bellingham police and court records.

The Hazardous Devices Unit used a “safe disruption process” to render MacFarlane’s backpack safe, which caused a loud noise, Murphy said. Several residents said they heard the noise, according to posts on social media sites.

The Bellingham Police Department's Hazardous Devices Unit used a robot to move a backpack that was thought to possibly contain a bomb on Sunday, April 29, 2019 at the Regal Cinemas movie theater in Bellingham, Wash. No explosives were located.

‘The perfect moment to share his message’

During an interview with police, MacFarlane stated that he was protesting escapism, according to court records. He told police he had seen the “Avengers: Endgame” movie the day before, on Saturday, and that “there was a pivotal scene that he decided would be the perfect moment to share his message,” the records state.

MacFarlane then returned Sunday to share his message, records show. When asked what his message was, MacFarlane wrote it out for the officer.

“Hear me you young men, 2,000 years ago the world was not overturned by vengeance but by love, so enjoy worshiping your false idols which neither see, hear nor walk. For Jesus Christ lives,” MacFarlane allegedly wrote, court records state.

MacFarlane told police he made no mention of a bomb, court records state.

MacFarlane’s arraignment was set for 9 a.m. on May 10.

This weekend was the release of “Avengers: Endgame,” which shattered box office records, taking in $1.2 billion worldwide and arriving as the No. 1 movie in at least 54 countries, according to an article in The New York Times.

The Bellingham Herald has reached out to Regal Cinemas for comment.

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.