KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The 25-year-old Columbia man charged last Friday with supporting a foreign terrorist organization made his first appearance in the U.S. District Court, 400 East Ninth Street, in Kansas City.
The FBI arrested Hester after gathering evidence that they say shows he meant to help carry out terrorist attacks on buses, trains and train stations, including Union Station in Kansas City. Investigators say Hester thought he was making plans and providing materials to carry out violence with a contact in a foreign terrorist organization. Instead, he was talking to and meeting with an undercover officer.
Hester pleaded not guilty a week later, on Friday, Feb. 24th before the federal judge in Kansas City. The judge decided he will be held without bond. Hester could face up to 20 years in prison.
Hester is a U.S. citizen who was born in Missouri. He was enlisted in the U.S. Army for less than a year, receiving a general discharge from service in mid-2013.
Hester’s neighbors in Columbia, Mo., say his arrest and charges came as a big shock.
Analee Shatlain told KOMU she was talking with Hester's dad and two daughters when the FBI swarmed their front door.
“We saw an officer up in the front,” Shatlain told KOMU. “I was told to put my hands up and come out. Don’t make any sudden movements.”
Court documents say Hester expressed approval that an attack targeting buses, trains and a train station in Kansas City was going to be ten times bigger than the Boston Marathon attacks.
“He’s never ever done anything like this,” Shatlain told KOMU. “He’s always been such a family guy. He’s always outside playing with kids and his wife is outside. He’s always very talkative towards the neighbors. Anybody who walks up he’s going to talk to you.”
In October of 2016 Hester did spend 10 days in jail after he allegedly got into an argument with his wife and threw a folded pocket knife through a plate-glass window near the entrance of a grocery store. Store employees told prosecutors that when they confronted Hester, he reached into the diaper bag he was carrying as if he was reaching for a weapon. Police officers later recovered a 9mm handgun from the diaper bag.
“He is not a terrorist,” neighbor Robert Shatlain told ABC 17. “He is no way in God’s green earth he’s a terrorist. He is a loving husband, father, son and no one will ever convince me otherwise.”
Court documents say in messages with an undercover FBI agent, Hester said the U.S. government should be “overthrown” and wrote that he wanted “global jihad,” officials said. The agent then asked the suspect to buy a list of items, including duct tape, copper wire and roofing nails, which would “bring some kind of destruction,” the undercover agent wrote.
“I’m just ready to help. I’m ready to help any way I can,” Hester allegedly wrote.
Hester delivered that list of items to an undercover agent, and the agent then showed him several firearms and pieces of pipe set up in the manner of pipe bombs, according to the complaint.
Hester's trial was set for March 27th.