BOGOTA, Colombia -- The mother of a U.S. citizen arrested in Venezuela on charges of attempted murder and arms trafficking said her son is not a terrorist or an anti-government agent as authorities portray him. Rather, she said, he’s a frightened man who speaks little Spanish, requires anti-anxiety medication and may have shot someone in self-defense.
Todd Michael Leininger, 32, who was born in Miami but has been living in Indiana for the last 20 years, was arrested early this week after he apparently shot a man in San Cristóbal, in the western border state of Táchira. State Gov. José Gregorio Vielma Mora has painted Leininger as an international agent with a criminal past who was in Venezuela as part of deadly anti-government protests.
In a telephone interview from Bloomington, the suspect’s mother, Barbara Leininger, said her son traveled from Indiana to San Cristóbal with his Venezuelan wife last week. His only plan, she said, was to take his sister-in-law household goods such as toilet paper, which have become hard-to-find amid Venezuela’s economic crisis.
Barbara Leininger said she was able to briefly speak to her son after his arrest. He admitted shooting someone but said that it had been in self defense.
“My son did feel like he was threatened and he was protecting himself and his family,” she said. The suspect’s wife has also been arrested in the case.
Barbara Leininger said that her son has Tourette’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which requires anti-anxiety medication. She said he was worried about getting food and his medicine in jail.
Early this week, Venezuelan authorities announced they had detained Leininger after he shot a man in the chest who they identified as Jorge Santos Sandoval. The state-run news agency said Santos was recovering from the injury and people familiar with the case say he was Leininger’s neighbor.
On Wednesday, Leininger and his wife, hooded and handcuffed, were presented to the press and photographed in front of an arsenal that Gov. Vielma Mora said was found at the house where they were staying. The weapons included a .22 and .40-caliber handgun and three .22-caliber rifles — including one with a telescopic site, authorities said. Camouflage clothing was also confiscated.
Vielma Mora said there was proof that Leininger was being paid by anti-government foes and suggested he was an international criminal.
Barbara Leininger said her son, who is currently unemployed, had no criminal record.
“He is not in any way connected to terrorists, any organization and doesn’t work for the government,” she said. “If you knew these kids and you weren’t crying, you would have to laugh because these allegations are the stupidest thing ever.”
The family is working with the U.S. Department of State and lawyers in Venezuela.