- Associated Press - Monday, September 29, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - A magistrate judge ordered a suburban Chicago man held without bond Monday on charges he set a fire at an air traffic control center, causing damage that brought the city’s two international airports to a halt.

Dressed in hospital scrubs and wearing a large white bandage on his neck, 36-year-old Brian Howard of Naperville appeared before Judge Michael Mason at Chicago’s federal courthouse Monday afternoon, hours after he was released from a hospital and arrested by federal officers.

Listening intently with a furrowed brow, Howard told the judge in a clear voice that he understood why he was there.

Defense attorney Ron Safer told reporters after the hearing that Howard made a “tragic mistake” while trying to kill himself and “deeply regrets” the trouble he caused for air travelers Friday. Safer asked the public for compassion and forgiveness. He declined to answer specific questions about what led up to Friday’s fire or what was happening in Howard’s life.

Prosecutors say Howard started the fire Friday at a regional control center in suburban Aurora before trying to commit suicide by slitting his throat.

More than 2,000 flights were canceled at O’Hare and Midway international airports, disrupting travel nationwide.

Howard faces up to 20 years in prison and fines if convicted of felony destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities.

“We are confident that the process which we’re embarked on now will open the doors to the help that Brian needs,” Safer said after the hearing. “He made a tragic mistake in the course of trying to end his own life. Only someone who is deeply troubled would do that.”

Federal Aviation Administration officials have said the employee who set the fire worked for the Harris Corp., which provides the FAA’s communications network for its air traffic centers. The agency has heightened security at all its air traffic facilities in response.

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