Ayres: Good, bad came from Jan. 6 ordeal
CHAMPION — Stephen Ayres remembers the day his life changed forever.
It was a winter Monday morning in early 2021, and he was at his Carolewood Circle NW home with his 9-year-old son Waylon, who was in the basement doing school work over a Zoom application.
A team of FBI agents then came to the door.
“They put me in handcuffs… I can honestly say the FBI was very respectful with the handling of my son. Only one agent went down into the basement and sat with him until my seven-and-a-half-month pregnant wife was able to make it home from work that morning,” Ayres recalled in an email to this newspaper, about the day a few weeks after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Ayres said the agent never once told Waylon why the team of agents was at his home.
“We broke that news to him about the time we went to D.C. for the Jan. 6th hearing,” Ayres said, noting his appearance this past summer testifying before the special House committee investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol that disrupted the counting of the 2020 electoral vote by Congress.
Ayres on Thursday was sentenced to two years of probation by a federal judge for his part in the riot. He and another man, Matthew Perna, from Sharpsville, Pa., made their way to Washington, D.C., to hear then-President Donald Trump address his supporters while Congress assembled at the Capitol to count the votes.
Ayres avoided prison time but has to pay a $500 fine and do 100 hours of community service as part of his sentence handed down by U.S. Judge John Bates.
“My wife Hayle and I are grateful that the judge recognized my sincere remorse for my actions on January 6th,” Ayres said in a separate, prepared statement released by his lawyer Eugene Ohm on Thursday night. “Now that I have been sentenced, I want to again say that it was wrong for me to be inside the Capitol and that I am sorry.”
Ayres said he is not ashamed for going to the Trump rally or protesting, “but I should not have gone inside that building and become part of a mob that terrorized police officers who were just doing their job.”
“That is not who I am. I am a God-fearing American, a family man who loves this country. Like so many others, I hung on every word Donald Trump said and he took advantage of us. My family and I have suffered — first for my bad judgment and then for speaking out. But if it helps this country get over this partisan and divisive (expletive) it will all be worth it. ”
Ayres, in the email, said he can see the good that came out of this experience that ended with him pleading guilty to one count of committing disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restrictive building or grounds. He lost his job that he held for almost two decades.
“But I now see it as a blessing in disguise as crazy as it may sound. The Lord got me away from (a regional cabinet manufacturer) which I became miserable with the supervisor position there,” he said ” I spent 17 years there working my butt off to become a supervisor… then I found out it’s not what I wanted after nearly 20 years.”
He said his bosses let him go when he was charged. “So I believe the Lord blessed me in that sense and got me outta there.”
Ayres said another good thing was that he is able to help raise his newborn son.
“I never would of got the time to raise him … (family medical leave) only allows 12 weeks for a baby. So yes there has been some blessings.”
There was also a lot of grief, Ayres said.
” I did lose my home and had to sell it. My wife had to take a year off from nursing school to help deal with all this, I lost a good friend Matthew Perna, who was my co-defendant. Which is one thing I still struggle with everyday. I think about him numerous times a day now. Wondering what if I did this or what if I did that. Would he still be here today?”
Perna died in March from what his family said was a “broken heart” after he pleaded guilty in December.
Ayres said he also thinks about the woman who lost her life during the Jan. 6 riot and those capitol officers who later died.
“I believe in law enforcement! I have friends who are police officers. It breaks my heart to hear what some of these officers went through that day. Not to mention their family members who are still suffering from losing their loved ones. All because we blindly followed the leader of the free nation.”