TAYLOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — A death threat against an African American family leaves them terrified to go to church. Now a man from Taylor is facing time in federal prison for making that threat.
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider called this crime “reprehensible,” and the local mother who was targeted says being threatened like this was the shock of her life.
“I felt my life was in real danger,” said Teresa Patton.
Church is important to Patton. But after she received that racist death threat, her feeling of safety during worship was destroyed.
“I wish people who do stuff like this would understand the ripple effects of it. You mean to terrorize maybe one person, but you don’t – you terrorize a whole group of people,” said Patton, pointing out that her entire extended family and fellow parishioners were scared.
This mother of six received that threat in July of 2019 on Facebook messenger. It says: “See you at church on Wednesday night with my AK to put you and your [expletive] family down [expletive].”
The death threat included a racial slur, using the N-word to describe her family. Patton was stunned to discover it was sent from a fellow parishioner. He was a man Patton said she had been trying to help and had welcomed into the church.
“As soon as I walked through the door I couldn’t breathe, I think I started having a panic attack and my legs-- I collapsed, I couldn’t stand up straight, the fear was real. And from that moment on, worshipping was not the same,” said Patton.
The FBI quickly arrested 22-year-old Ronald Wyatt. Wyatt lives in a mobile home community near the Sunset Church of Christ in Taylor. Court record show, the feds seized several guns and ammunition from him.
“This is a hate crime, no doubt about it,” Schneider told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.
On Wednesday, Wyatt pleaded guilty in federal court to obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs and admitted he targeted Patton because of her race. He faces one year in prison, but his sentencing is being delayed for a year so Wyatt can seek mental health treatment.
“It’s disgusting that anyone would treat somebody this way because of their race or their religion. So, we have to follow up on it. We also have to be cognizant of the fact that sometimes these are mental health issues,” said Schneider. “So, we’re not going to put everybody in prison for this, we’re going to try to get people help.”
Schneider says the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office are watching for internet threats like this constantly.
“We’re always looking out for this,” said Schneider. “It is illegal to interfere with a fundamental right to worship.”
Teresa Patton says it was hard to speak publicly about this threat, but she has a clear message for Wyatt.
“I just want him to know, that I’m going to keep going and I’m going to keep living. And I don’t hold any anger, I’m not going to let any resentment or bitterness set in. I am a voice for so many people in the community who have been dealing with racial unrest,” said Patton. “I want people to know – stand up, don’t allow racial injustice or racial discrimination to stop your life. Yes, it’s scary but we have to keep pushing together and that’s why I’m doing this, to let them know, they’re not alone. We’re all in the fight together.”
7 Action News did reach out to Wyatt’s attorney for comment. We have not heard back.
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