A 26-year-old Missouri man pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge Thursday for bringing an Amtrak train to a stop in southwest Nebraska last October and sending passengers into a panic.
Taylor M. Wilson, of St. Charles, Missouri, also pleaded guilty to possessing an unregistered 9 mm CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 rifle, one of several guns FBI agents found in a search of his home, as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors there.
Several other counts will be dismissed at his sentencing Oct. 5.
“Why did you stop it (the train)?” Magistrate Judge Cheryl Zwart asked Wilson at his plea hearing Thursday.
“I was high,” Wilson answered.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods said Wilson had a mask, hammer, knife, a loaded .38-caliber gun, a box of ammunition and a National Socialist Movement business card on him when he got into an secure area of the train and cut the lights to the train.
She said train employees were running up and down the aisles attempting to determine the cause of the emergency stop. Some passengers, in fear, attempted to escape through the train’s windows.
When Amtrak workers found Wilson in the engineer’s seat of the follow engine playing with the controls, he claimed to be the new conductor, Woods said.
He later told investigators he had dropped acid right before, she said.
The conductor and others subdued Wilson, then held him and waited for sheriffs’ deputies from Furnas and Harlan counties to arrive in Oxford, 23 miles southwest of Holdrege.
In body-cam video of him being disarmed by deputies, Wilson was caught making shooting sounds at deputies and the conductor.
None of the 175 people aboard the eastbound California Zephyr were injured.
But he ultimately was indicted federally — in Nebraska and Missouri — after learning he had links to a white supremacist group and had expressed an interest in “killing black people,” according to an informant.
Woods said a search of his Missouri home in December turned up a cache of unregistered firearms (including a machine gun and short-barreled rifle), Mein Kampf and a shield with a swastika on it, pressure plates used to make explosive devices and writings about ISIS.
She said Wilson had planned to travel to Syria to fight with ISIS and bought a plane ticket but never used it. Wilson denied it.
According to the written plea agreement, he told a deputy after his arrest: “I was going to save the train from the black people.”
Wilson faces up to life in prison for threatening to disable railroad on-track equipment and a mass transportation vehicle in the Nebraska case and up to 10 years for possession of an unregistered firearm in the Missouri case.
After the hearing, Wilson’s parents, who were in the back of the courtroom, told him they loved him.
“You did well,” his mom said as a guard ushered him out.
In the hallway, Omaha attorney Jerry Sena said at sentencing he plans to argue that given Wilson’s limited criminal record he should be sentenced within the range of nine to 11 years.
Wilson is being held at the Saline County jail in Wilber.