Police: Man arrested for threatening people outside Denver mosque was upset over lost phone

He was brandishing an air rifle.

The Downtown Denver Islamic Center off Downing Street, in Whittier, after a man arrived at the mosque with a long gun. Nov. 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Downtown Denver Islamic Center off Downing Street, in Whittier, after a man arrived at the mosque with a long gun. Nov. 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

The man arrested for threatening people outside the Downtown Denver Islamic Center was angry about a lost phone he believed was inside the building, according to a probable cause statement from Denver Police.

Benjamin Casillas-Rocha, 24, was arrested by police Thursday evening after police said he brought what turned out to be an air rifle to the mosque on North Downing Street.

The incident led to increased patrols by Denver police in city mosques and comes a week after federal authorities announced they had foiled a plot to attack a historic synagogue in Pueblo.

Police were dispatched to the scene at 3:42 p.m. after a report of a disturbance involving weapons including a machine gun.

Witnesses told police Casillas-Rocha showed up at the mosque on Thursday upset about losing his phone before returning in the afternoon. Police believe Casillas-Rocha was high when he returned that afternoon. He then left and returned again a few minutes later armed with what police described at the time as an “assault rifle with a banana clip.” Witnesses said they were in the parking lot when Casillas-Rocha began brandishing the rifle.

He then allegedly cocked the rifle, pointed it at the witnesses and said something that’s redacted in Denver police’s probable cause statement. The statement said the victims feared he was going to shoot them. Imam Muhammad Kolila told Denverite on Thursday the man shouted anti-Muslim remarks. Casillas-Rocha left after he was told police had been called.

Denver police confirmed the incident is being investigated by the biased-motivated crime investigative unit. Casillas-Rocha is being held on investigation of felony menacing. Additional charges may be filed by the Denver’s District Attorney’s Office. The Colorado chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on state and federal authorities to investigate the incident and for hate crime charges to be filed against Casillas-Rocha. The ADL’s local chapter also condemned the incident, calling it deeply disturbing.

Casillas-Rocha was found and arrested in the backyard of a residence on North Marion Street. Police said witnesses identified him as the man who had threatened them at the mosque. Police also recovered an air rifle after executing a search warrant. The statement doesn’t indicate whether there was an orange tip on the air rifle and police could not say whether there was one when Denverite asked.

Denver’s District Attorney’s Office will determine what charges will be filed against Casillas-Rocha. No charges have been filed in the case yet.

This story has been updated to include details from Denver police and a comment from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. 

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