Mathew Sterling, 29, goes before a judge for the first time since being arrested at Phoenix Comicon. Officials say he was carrying an arsenal and threatened to shoot police officers and actor Jason David Frank.
Maricopa County Superior Court
California police sergeant acts quickly to discover where man making threats was located
The woman whose phone call in California led to Thursday’s arrest of a heavily armed man at Phoenix Comicon said she had known him for almost three years and said he had experienced a similar episode in 2015.
Singer and composer Rayko Dig of Los Angeles spoke to The Arizona Republic Saturday. Dig said she had met Mathew Sterling, 29, of Mesa at a concert of hers on July 6, 2014, in downtown Los Angeles.
Since then, Dig said, she stayed in touch through text and social media. He wanted help with his appearance, she said, and she worked in that field as well.
“I’m a personal trainer and I wanted to help someone who needed help desperately,” she said.
Then, an event in July 2015 led her to ignore Sterling.
Dig said she was sent “threatening and delusional messages” from outside the Anime Expo event at the Los Angeles Convention Center. She said she called police, stunned at how Sterling’s behavior changed “a complete 180” from their previous interactions.
“He threatened that someone was going to be raped and murdered,” Dig said. “He did not directly mention murdering anyone, but the messages were horrifying enough to call the police.”
Believing that the comments posed a threat, she called a close friend — Hawthorne, California, Police Sgt. Scott Nichols. Nichols left Sterling a voice message.
From then on, Dig ignored Sterling’s texts until Thursday when he sent her pictures of his weapons and threatened to kill police.
Dig said she contacted Nichols again and sent him screenshots of the messages.
Dig told Nichols that Sterling lived in Arizona, and the sergeant did some quick research.
“I was reading what he was saying and I could tell it was a real gun,” Nichols said Saturday. “One of the pictures appeared to be at a comic convention.”
Nichols found Sterling was at Phoenix Comicon and he immediately called Phoenix police.
Only 11 minutes passed from Nichols contacting Phoenix police to the time Sterling was arrested at the Convention Center after briefly resisting arrest, according to a police statement in a court record.
“In law enforcement, we only dream of stuff working that quickly,” Nichols said. “Before I was even off the phone with them, they had him detained. It was very fast.”
Dig made a public Facebook post in which she said she said she gave authorities working on the case 40 screen shots of messages she said were sent by Sterling Thursday as he sat on the second floor of the Phoenix Convention Center.
Sterling’s messages to Dig indicated he was armed and wanting to harm police officers, Phoenix police said in a statement released Thursday. He had also been taking photos of officers working the event.
Dig, on her Facebook post, urged others to be vigilant and take threatening messages and posts seriously.
“This isn’t the fantasy world nor the world we once lived in my friends,” Dig wrote. “I’m not encouraging us all to live in paranoia. But please don’t ignore the signs.”
At his initial court appearance, Maricopa County Deputy Attorney Ed Leiter said the 29-year-old Sterling indicated he was “going to have a showdown and kill God knows how many more cops.”
Police say that Sterling also was targeting Jason David Frank, an actor and mixed martial artist who is best known for his role as the original green Power Ranger. Frank was appearing at the convention Thursday.
Police said Sterling “set a calendar reminder in his phone to alert him to kill the victim at Comicon on May 25th.”
Leiter said that the incident put everyone at Comicon in danger.
“He exhibited a dramatic threat to the community beyond police officers, beyond Jason David Frank,” Leiter said. “A number of other people were referenced as possible targets or people he wanted to kill.”
Dig encouraged her Facebook followers to be diligent and look out for themselves, their loved ones and even strangers.
“I am still just a chosen messenger not a hero who may have stopped another Manchester (Thursday),” she wrote.
Sterling was arrested at the Convention Center and was found to be in possession of two .45-caliber handguns, a .454-caliber handgun, and a 12-gauge shotgun, all fully loaded; a combat knife; pepper spray; and throwing stars.
His arrest forced an immediate ban on props that appear to be weapons and caused long lines to get in the event on Friday, as stricter security screening measures were put in place.
Sterling faces charges of attempted murder, three counts of aggravated assault, wearing body armor during the commission of a felony, resisting arrest, and carrying a weapon in a prohibited place, according to a Phoenix police statement.
His bond was set at $1 million at the request of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
His next court date is June 2.
“I believe God put me in this situation in 2014 to reach out to authorities this Thursday. I’m glad I was able to stop this madness. I am not a hero,” Dig said in a phone interview on Saturday. “If I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself knowing that people got hurt.
“If you see people in a bad place, make sure to reach out and not just look away… I hope when people hear or see these things, they tell authorities right away.”
Quick action may have averted tragedy
11:46 a.m.: Rayko Dig sends Sgt. Scott Nichols screenshots of Mathew Sterling’s messages containing pictures of his weapons and threats targeting police officers and Jason David Frank.
11:51 a.m.: Nichols checks his phone and sees the messages. He researches the Internet to find out where Sterling was.
12:11 p.m.: Phoenix Police report being contacted by Nichols.
12:22 p.m.: Sterling arrested at Phoenix Convention Center.
Sources: Arizona Republic interviews, Phoenix Police Department.
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