Family: Driver in Chicago-area mall crash has mental illness

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CHICAGO (AP) — The family of a man facing an Illinois terrorism charge for plowing an SUV into a suburban Chicago mall says he shouldn’t be called a “terrorist” because there was no political reason behind his action.

Police say Javier Garcia, 22, was charged with felony criminal damage to property of more than $100,000 in addition to the terrorism charge for driving through the mall last month.

“I feel like he shouldn’t be labeled as terrorist,” said Noemi Garcia, Javier’s sister. “There wasn’t a political reason for him to want to do that.”

Video of the Sept. 20 incident posted on social media shows shoppers running for safety in the corridors of the Woodfield Mall as the black Chevy Trailblazer smashed through. Garcia was immediately arrested after crashing the vehicle into a clothing store.

Noemi Garcia told the Chicago Tribune that her brother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia about three years ago. He was released from a weeklong, voluntary inpatient stay just one day before the crash at the mall, his sister added.

In the two months leading up to the crash, Garcia voluntarily committed himself to three hospital stays in hopes of getting better, according to his sister.

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“He told us the voices didn’t stop,” Noemi Garcia said.

While terrorism cases are typically handled in federal court, Illinois enacted its own terrorism statute after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Under that law, the Class X felony of terrorism can apply if the suspect is believed to have caused more than $100,000 in damage to any building containing five or more businesses, according to a statement issued by Schaumburg Police Sgt. Karen McCarthy.

No federal charges have been brought against Garcia as he remains in a psychiatric ward, his sister said. His bail has been denied.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

Garcia grew up in Palatine, Illinois, with his three sisters and was raised by their single father. Noemi Garcia remembers her brother as the family’s peacekeeper, who was constantly caught in the middle of the three girls.

“He always wanted to stop fights. If someone didn’t want to share their hot Cheetos, he would say, ‘Here’s mine,’” Noemi Garcia said.

Now Garcia’s family say they hope the terrorism charge will be dropped. But their immediate concern is whether he’s getting the help he needs while he’s in Cook County Jail’s custody.

“He wants to live a normal life,” Noemi Garcia said.

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