CHICAGO — The man accused of setting the fire that crippled one of the nation's key air traffic control centers posted on Facebook that he was "about to take out [the center] and my life," investigators said.
And after allegedly setting fire to cables and wires in the west suburban Aurora center Friday morning, Brian Howard, 36, was found by paramedics trying to slit his own throat, according to authorities. They pulled the knife away from him, apparently saving his life.
Howard, a Naperville contractor who worked at the Aurora FAA center, is accused of sabotaging the center and causing massive flight cancelations and delays in Chicago and around the country. Authorities said he recently had been told he was to be transferred to Hawaii.
The delays and cancelations continued to plague Chicago's airports and commuters on Saturday, with nearly 700 flights canceled and far more delayed.
In federal court documents, investigators say they found Howard at the Aurora center Friday morning, not far from a gas can and lighter, burned towels and exposed telecommunications cables and wires that had been set on fire.
A floor panel had been pulled away to reach the wires, officials said.
Paramedics followed a blood trail near the fire and found a knife and a lighter on the floor. Another knife was found on the blood trail — and then a pair of feet were seen sticking out from under a table, authorities said.
It was Howard, they alleged, in the process of slitting his throat with another knife. He also had knife wounds on his arms, authorities said.
A paramedic pulled the knife away from him and set it on the table. Howard told the paramedics to "leave me alone," the FBI said.
The FBI said the investigation revealed Howard posted to Facebook just before the fire was set:
"Take a hard look in the mirror, I have. And this is why I am about to take out ZAU and my life," Howard posted, using the call letters for the Aurora center, the FBI said. "April, Pop, love you guys and I am sorry. Leaving you with a big mess. Do your best to move on quickly from me please. Feel like I give (expletive) for the first time in a long time again ... but not for too long (haha!) So I'm gonna smoke this blunt and move on, take care everyone."
That was posted at 5:36 a.m. Friday, about 30 minutes after Howard entered the center, the FBI said.
At 5:42 a.m., a control center employee called 911 to say the center was on fire.
It was the responding paramedics from the Aurora Fire Department who found Howard, the FBI said.
Howard, who remained hospitalized Saturday, is charged with willfully setting fire to the center and endangering the safety of planes in flight.
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