Grandmother of terrorism suspect says he’s mentally ill, not a criminal
Debra Thomas said five days ago she heard her 18-year-old grandson Keaun L. Cook, upstairs in his bedroom talking, but she knew no one else was in the room.
“I said to him, ‘Who are you talking to?” and he said, ‘right there. To him right there.’ But he just pointed at the TV,” said Thomas about her grandson that she and family members said has been in and out of mental health care facilities at least 10 times in the last few years.
Cook is now in the Madison County Jail held without bail after he was charged with two felonies; one count of making a terrorist threat and one count of material support for terrorism.
Thomas said that after viewing her grandson’s Facebook page and finding images that “were very disturbing,” and knowing he had not taken his schizophrenia medication for two months, she confronted him in the bedroom and then called police.
Cook was taken to Gateway Medical Center in Granite City where he was held until Thursday when he was arrested. “He is not a terrorist,” she said.
“He’s not a criminal, he’s not. He was just talking out of his head,” said Cook’s stepfather Willie Thomas during an interview Friday with family members at the grandmother’s home in Godfrey.
But Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons viewed images on the Facebook page and, with investigators from the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, determined that Cook had made threats to the safety of the general public and had contacted a terrorist organization.
The threat, Gibbons said, was that Cook “would carry out mass casualties at multiple sites.”
Gibbons’ said his office is asking that Cook not be allowed to post bond.
Bail for Cook was set Thursday at $150,000, meaning he could be released on bond by posting the required 10 percent in cash — $15,000.
Gibbons said Friday he is asking that Cook be required to post the full $150,000, or that his bond be revoked.
“That will stop any easy release,” Gibbons said.
The prosecutor said he expects a judge will rule soon on his request.
He’s not a criminal, he’s not. He was just talking out of his head.
Keaun Cook’s stepfather Willie Thomas
A Facebook page that appears to be for Cook contains a link to a news story about an ISIS beheading. The Facebook user’s comment on the link, which included a graphic photo, was, “American feast.”
There didn’t appear to be any other explicit mentions of terrorism on the Facebook page.
Authorities on Friday still weren’t releasing many details about the allegations against Cook.
Gibbons on Friday said Cook “was in contact with a terrorist organization,” but “there were not any bomb materials recovered.”
Gibbons said the threat was verbal, but that Cook had been in communication with a terrorist organization via multiple electronic means. He would not go into further specifics and would not name the organization to which Cook had been linked.
Sheriff John Lakin said they first became aware of the threat on Aug. 24 after deputies from his department were dispatched to Cook’s home in Godfrey for a welfare check. In meeting with Cook and his family members, deputies developed evidence linking Cook to possible regional terrorist threats.
Preliminary investigation confirmed that Cook has been in contact with individuals he believed would be capable of committing a mass casualty terrorist attack, according to authorities. Federal authorities were brought in to assist in the investigation.
Thomas, 56, the grandmother, provided a reporter with copies of Madison County Circuit Court documents where his public defender testified during a hearing in September that Cook was suffering from a mental disorder connected to the death of his mother.
“There is no question his criminal history is terrible,” the attorney said, “It is very clear that Keaun is not going to get any better until he deals with the grief from his mother’s death ... it triggered his criminal behavior. It has triggered his downfall.”
Thomas, who said her grandson had prior arrests and convictions for retail theft, said that when he was 17, Cook was sentenced to the Madison County juvenile justice system and held basically in solitary confinement for 18 months.
“You know what that does to a person,” she said, adding that he had been in and out of the juvenile justice system a half dozen times.
“I believe the Madison County juvenile justice system has failed me and my grandson,” Thomas said.