Miami Beach man could face hate crime, terrorism charges

Walter Stopler angry after being served with eviction papers, police say

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The state attorney's office is looking into whether an attempted arson in Miami Beach will be considered a hate crime or possibly terrorism.

Miami Beach police said they received a credible tip that Walter Stopler, 72, was planning to burn down The Pavilion residences on Collins Avenue after having recently been served with eviction papers.

Luis Diaz, who works security at a nearby building, was the man who tipped police off to the plot. 

"He made the comment about two weeks ago to me that he was going to burn down his apartment and every Jew in the building," Diaz said. 

When police arrested Stopler last Thursday, they said he had already started pouring gasoline down the garbage chute. 

Police said they also found more than two dozen additional containers of gas in a storage room belonging to him, along with sulfuric powder and sodium nitrate -- a chemical used in fireworks and gunpowder.

"That was just a bomb that would have devastated everybody," Diane Cubenas-Serra, who lives in the building, said. 

Walter Stopler, 72, faces charges of attempted arson and attempted murder after police say he tried to burn down his own condominium building to "kill all the Jews."

Cubenas-Serra spends every summer in the building.

She said she had spoken with Stopler only a week earlier. She said he was acting strangely, but she assumed he was just having a bad day.

Since the incident, residents at the building have begun questioning their previous interactions with him.

One neighbor sent Local 10 News a video they said shows him walking down the hallway near his 15th-floor unit.

One resident called the video "scary."

Public outrage surrounding the case has raised questions about whether or not Stopler could be charged with a hate crime or terrorism.

In response, the state attorney's office released a statement saying: "We are currently reviewing all of the available evidence to see if both the Hate Crimes enhancement and/or the Terrorism charges are supported under Florida law.  We will be announcing our charging decisions at the arraignment which is the first step of the actual court process."

Stopler's lawyers, meanwhile, said it's very early in this case and they still haven't gotten a chance to fully speak to him about his defense.

About the Author:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.