DETROIT—With his receding hairline, non-trendy eyeglasses, and everydude mien, David Brian Stone, at his arraignment in federal court, seemed more like a middle-aged fishing buddy than a militia leader who allegedly plotted to kill police and overthrow the government.
But Stone, it appears, has lived most of his 45 years as something of an enigma. Raised in a quaint rural town where everyone knows everyone, few seem to know him. Those who do say he's lived an unremarkable life, save for family instability and at least one traumatic incident.
There's the one former family member who, looking back, says she feared a dark side of Stone's psyche. But even she was stunned by the feds’ accusations.
He always had guns, for one thing.
In an indictment unsealed this week in U.S. District Court, Stone is charged with heading a Christian-doomsday extremist militia group about 75 miles from Detroit. Calling itself the Hutaree, the group was planning to murder law enforcement officials in hopes of staging an anti-government uprising, according to the Justice Department. The plan included makeshift explosive devices.
• Brenda E. Brasher: When Christianity Turns Violent • Samuel P. Jacobs: Why Militias Love Michigan The five-count indictment included charges of attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, seditious conspiracy, teaching the use of explosive materials, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence. Named along with Stone are his wife and two sons and five others.
But if Stone intended to leave a mark, his early footprints were modest. A 1982 graduate of Sand Creek High School, in rural Sand Creek, Mich., Stone was a typical student who kept to himself.
"It was a small school, so I knew pretty much everybody by face," said Steve Laundra, now superintendent of Sand Creek Schools. "He didn't cause any trouble. He was just an average student."
When he was 21, according to Lenawee County court records, Stone married Deanna Zuke, divorcing her nine years later. In 1998, he married Donna Elaine Davis in Toledo, Ohio; they divorced in 2002. That marriage was apparently rocky.
In 2000, records show, Donna Stone sought a protection order against her husband, which was ultimately denied. She said in documents that he had kicked her out of the home then prevented her at gunpoint from retrieving her young child.
"He was standing in the front yard with his gun. So I, Donna Elaine Stone, parked down the road till the police showed up." Stone, she said, had a history of assaulting and threatening her.
In published reports, Donna said Stone went from mainstream Christian to extremist, which caused the marriage to end. Donna's mother, Judy Snead, said in an interview that Stone "hasn't been wrapped tight for a long time, and that she's grateful her daughter is no longer married to him.
"I wasn't around him that much, but it did seem like something was going on with him. He always had guns, for one thing,” she said.
"I truly feel like he needed some kind of help as a child, and didn't get it," added Snead, 68, of Lenawee County. "I thank the Lord Donna got out."
She said Stone, who had worked for a while in a factory, never appeared to be particularly religious.
"I'm a Christian, but not what he says he is," she said. "I have no bitterness toward him. But, by what I heard on TV, he should be hung."
Stone, who according to records has three sons and a daughter, married his current wife, Tina, last year, a ceremony documented on Facebook with photos of the wedding party, dressed in camo and toting assault rifles.
Beyond his rollicking home life, no one knows what effect a 1998 incident, in which two young children died, had on him. Court records show that in April of that year, a 17-month-old and a two-year-old drowned in an uncovered hole containing an uncompleted septic system on property owned or managed by Stone and a relative. Stone, the relative, and the children's caregiver were sued for negligence and wrongful death. The suit was dismissed in 2000.
"I heard about that," said Snead. "But I don't know what's gone on in that man's mind."
Mary M. Chapman has covered business and labor unions for the United Press International and the Bureau of National Affairs Inc. She is an award-winning poet and was recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists for outstanding reporting. Now in business for herself, Chapman contributes regularly to The New York Times. She also has written for Newsweek, Fortune, the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, People, MSN.com, Canadian Auto Press and HOUR Detroit, among others.