Police: Missouri man charged with terrorist threat for coughing on customers, writing 'COVID' on cooler door

A man was arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat in Cuba, Mo., after he allegedly coughed on the customers of a local business, breathed on merchandise and wrote “COVID” in the condensation inside of a cooler.

John Swaller, 33, has been formally charged with making a terroristic threat in the second degree, a felony in Missouri, according to a statement from the Cuba Police Department. 

An employee complained to authorities Tuesday that a male suspect, later identified as Swaller, purposefully coughed toward other customers in the store. 


“The employee also stated that the same male had written 'COVID' on the inside of a cooler door with his fingers after breathing on it,” according to the police statement. “It was also alleged the male had placed his hands down his pants and then rubbed a cooler door handle.”

Swaller had left the store by the time police arrived but was later taken into custody. 

The store, identified by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a Dollar Tree, was closed and sanitized. 

Cuba Police Chief Doug Shelton told the Post-Dispatch that it is unclear if Swaller has been infected with coronavirus. Officers wore protective gear while transporting the suspect to jail.

“I feel that it worries a lot of the residents of Cuba,” Shelton said. “It has angered a lot of people.”

Swaller is currently being held at the Crawford County Jail on a $25,000 bond. He faces up to four years in prison or one year in jail and a fine up to $10,000 if convicted, according to the outlet.

He is the second Missouri man to be charged with making a terroristic threat related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Cody Lee Pfister was charged in Warren County after he allegedly made a video of himself licking items at a Walmart while asking, “Who’s scared of coronavirus?” 

COVID-19 has infected as many as 1,581 people in the state, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.