'It’s just kind of a different world out there'

Zoe Greszler • Jul 4, 2018 at 10:00 PM

The news of a foiled Fourth of July terrorist attack plans, and the arrest of the man behind them, went out as cities across the country, including Norwalk, prepared for Fourth of July celebrations.

The FBI said Cleveland’s would-be terrorist, Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, 48, wanted to recruit people to kill Americans.

He's accused of telling an undercover agent he would have no remorse if he took lives in the name of religion, The Toledo Blade reported.

The newspaper said the man is accused of intending to use remote-controlled toy cars to set off several bombs, which could have killed hundreds. The attack was designed to terrorize Cleveland as the city celebrated Independence Day.

"They kill one of us, we kill ten thousand of them," Pitts said in a video FBI agents found on his phone, according to The Blade. "They kill two of us, we kill the whole city."

While countless Ohioians are thankful for the FBI’s foresight, many were concerned of other potential plots that may have posed a threat to other cities celebrating the Fourth of July.

Norwalk celebrated the holiday Wednesday with a parade in the morning and fireworks at night.

Norwalk Mayor Rob Duncan said local parade-goers could take comfort in knowing the city wasn’t cutting any corners on safety during the festivities.

“We’ve (had) some training and a mandatory work day for the guys for the parade,” Duncan said.

“In their training, they have been taught to watch vigilantly at all times — not just to watch the parade, but to keep an eye out (everywhere). They’ve been trained to look for certain actions and people that might look suspicious.

“We (were) out in full force protecting citizens of Norwalk as we always do,” he added. “It’s just that there’s a few more people out on this occasion.”

Norwalk Police Chief Mike Conney agreed, adding it was just what you would hope for -—a good, enjoyable and safe parade.

“The parade went great,” he said. “There were no problems that I’m aware of and it was really well organized.”

Conney said that his officers took extra precautions, something they’ve done for the past 17 years.

“For security, every Fourth of July parade we have all officers on duty. We have an all hands-on-deck approach to this,” he said.

“We’re always reminding them to be vigilant and to look for things that may be out of ordinary. We tell them to remember we’re there to protect the citizens and visitors, to keep them safe. We stress that every year. We’ve stepped that up since Sept. 11, 2001.”

Conney said even if Norwalk is a smaller city, the annual parade is a popular event, making it a potential target. The department wants to do its best to keep it a safe one.

“We realized it’s a big event. It’s very important to the community,” he said. “Like I said, we always remind everybody to keep their focus on anything that might be out of the ordinary, anything at all. We unfortunately have had to make sure we’re staying on top of that since Sept. 11. It’s just kind of a different world out there now.”

Norwalk enjoyed a safe and exciting celebration, and thanks to the national and Cleveland’s local law enforcement, the large lakefront city to the north was able to as well.

Pitts, who grew up in Philadelphia and was living in Maple Heights, faces federal terrorism charges and accusations of plotting a terrorism attack.

Federal agents arrested the man Sunday and charged him in U.S. District Court with attempting to provide material support to al-Qaeda. For years, through various social media accounts, Pitts has expressed a desire to kill Americans, according to an FBI affidavit filed in the case.

“Clevelanders are grateful to the FBI and all law enforcement officers for their work protecting our city and our neighbors from this attack,” said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who lives in Cleveland. “And we thank all law enforcement who work every day to keep our country safe and secure from the ongoing threat of homegrown terrorism.”

“This plot underscores the threat we continue to face from home-grown terrorism,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said. “I applaud the FBI and its law enforcement partners for their hard work to stop this threat and ensure that everyone can have a safe and secure Fourth.”

Norwalk Reflector Videos