Three New York men and a 16-year-old boy have been arrested in a plot to attack a Muslim community with explosive devices. Brian Colaneri, Vincent Vetromile and Andrew Crysel, ages 20, 19 and 18 respectively, were arrested on weapons and conspiracy charges, authorities announced on January 22.
The three men and the 16-year-old, who is not being identified because he is facing unspecified juvenile charges, are all from the Rochester, New York, area, Monroe County authorities said at a press conference. They were planning to bomb the community of Islamberg, a hamlet of Tompkins in Delaware County, New York, near Binghamton. Police began investigating the men and teen after the 16-year-old made a comment about a school shooting to a classmate at Greece Odyssey Academy.
According to police, three of the four suspects knew each other through Boy Scouts. Two are Eagle Scouts. The three men also all attended Monroe County Community College in recent years.
Islamberg has been the target of attack plots previously, along with other threats of violence. Far-right conspiracy theorists have falsely alleged for several years that the community is a “no go zone,” where non-Muslims are not welcomed. There have also been false rumors of terrorist training camps at the New York community. Islamberg was founded by The Muslims of America Inc. in the 1980s and is primarily home to African American Muslims.
In 2017, a 65-year-old Tennessee man, Robert Doggart, was sentenced to nearly 20 years in federal prison after he plotted to bring a militia to Islamberg to attack the community and kill Muslims. Doggart, who wanted to burn down the town’s mosque and said he would kill children if necessary, was inspired by Islamaphobic conspiracy theories, prosecutors said.
The investigation into the Rochester-area men is ongoing and Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley told reporters she will be meeting with the U.S. Attorney’s office to determine if federal charges, including terrorism offenses, will be brought against the four suspects. Doorley said once grand jury indictments on the state level have been obtained against the three men and the 16-year-old, the federal case will be brought. Additional arrests could also be made, authorities said.
Here’s what you need to know about Brian Colaneri, Andrew Crysel and Vincent Vetromile:
1. Police Say the Group Had Been Planning the Attack for More Than a Month, Including on Discord Chat & Investigators Seized 23 Guns & 3 Homemade Explosive Devices
Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan said at a press conference that the three men, Brian Colaneri, Andrew Crysel and Vincent Vetromile, and the unnamed 16-year-old boy plotted the attack for more than a month, according to The Associated Press. Phelan said the group has access to 23 guns, including rifles and shotguns, which were all legally owned, along with homemade improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
“I don’t know that there was a specific date. They had a plan in place,” Phelan told reporters. Phelan said the investigation into the group began after the 16-year-old made a comment to a classmate in the lunchroom of the Odyssey Academy in Greece.
“He looks like the next school shooter, doesn’t he?” police said the boy told the classmate, while showing him a picture of another teen. The teen in the photo has not been charged. The teen who was shown the photo went to authorities and reported it. Phelan said the boy, “did what we teach kids to do and told somebody.”
Police began investigating and uncovered the plot to attack Islamberg, Phelan said. Detectives searched five locations and seized the guns along with electronic devices and other evidence. Phelan said many of the guns were owned by relatives of the suspects. The three IEDs were found in the home of the 16-year-old, the police chief said.
“They were homemade bombs. They’re being examined right now at the FBI lab in Quantico, so they’ll determine if they were capable of exploding but they were homemade bombs with various items, black powder, BBs, nails, that type of thing,” Phelan told reporters.
Police said the group had been communicating and planning using Discord, a chat app popular among video gamers. It’s not clear if police have recovered those Discord chat logs as evidence in the case.
“There was a plan to attack this community with weapons,” Phelan told reporters. He said additional details about the plot are being withheld for now because of the ongoing investigation.
The school district has said there was never a threat to the school. Greece Central School District Superintendent Kathleen Graupman praised the actions of the students who went to authorities. Graupman said they “changed the narrative” and “trusted their instincts and used what they learned in school.”
Phelan said lives were saved.
“If they had carried out this plot, which every indication is that they were going to, people would have died,” Phelan told reporters. “I don’t know how many and who, but people would have died.”
2. Colaneri, Who Worked at Home Depot & Studied at Monroe Community College in 2017, Has ‘Never Been in Trouble Before,’ His Mother Says
Brian Colaneri worked at Home Depot and attended Monroe Community College in 2017.
Colaneri’s mother, April Colaneri, said her son has never been in trouble before and said she thinks he was persuaded into doing something he didn’t understand, she told The Daily Messanger.
“Brian is in jail right now because they took him on Friday night and they said they’d give him back in three hours. He was going in for questioning. I’ve been trying to get a hold of anybody in the office, the Monroe County Jail, anybody to help him,” she said.
April Colaneri told the newspaper her son and his friends have “been known to play-act.”
She said, “Like Dungeons and Dragons and things. So one of the guys says ‘the president’ and another one said ‘bombing,’ like build a bomb. And this is why the FBI took my son. … I’m just really upset. I can’t believe it happened. He’s never been in trouble before. He’s 20 years old. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never heard of this happening or ever thought it was going to happen.” She added that he had fireworks, “in an old electrical box that was down in the cellar.”
Colaneri’s family told BuzzFeed News that he has Asperger’s syndrome and knew the other men from their neighborhood. They said he would play video games with them and once worked with Crysel at a dollar store.
“My grandson makes friends easy,” Kathleen Englert told BuzzFeed. She said he is “very smart but not street wise,” and is “gullible.” She added, “I think my grandson was manipulated. Why would this guy buy him BB guns and train him how to shoot?”
3. Vetromile, Who Became an Eagle Scout in June 2017 & Tweeted at Trump Asking Him to Come to the Ceremony, Was Kicked Out of School Because of Disciplinary Issues
Vincent Vetromile did attend Greece public schools, but was removed from the district because of a disciplinary issue, authorities said. He was enrolled at Monroe Community College in the summer of 2017, but was not currently a student, the school said.
Vetromile used the Twitter account @xxrebel1xx, according to The Daily Beast. The account has tweeted more than 40,000 times. In his bio, Vetromile wrote, “nothing short of revolution can fix this mess of a nation.” Vetromile tweeted often about President Donald Trump and spread right-wing talking points and conspiracy theories, including that President Obama was born in Kenya.
He called Muslim immigrants “rapefugees,” and said there was “always a good reason to get rid of all Muslims.” He wrote that all Muslims should die, according to The Daily Beast.
“Kids have been shown to be terrorists too and have killed our people,” Vetromile wrote on Twitter. “The Koran tells them to kill us so they’re all GUILTY.”
In May 2017, Vetromile tweeted at Trump, inviting him to his Eagle Scout ceremony. “Thanks for MAGA,” he wrote.
4. Crysel Studied at Monroe Community College Last Spring & Became an Eagle Scout in August 2017
Andrew Crysel attended Monroe Community College in spring 2018, but was not enrolled during the fall 2018 and spring 2019 semesters, the school said. He became an Eagle Scout in August 2017, according to posts on his grandfather’s Facebook page.
“I cannot express how I feel right now. I am deeply humbled by the outpouring of family and friends who came out this afternoon to participate in and watch Andrew receive his Eagle Award for Boy Scouts,” Wayne Crysel wrote on Facebook in 2017. “You are all an amazing bunch of people and I am proud and consider myself lucky to be associated with all of you. Thank all of you for all the support, patience and understanding you have given Andrew and myself over the years. May God bless all of you and give you all the happiness and peace you all deserve. Thank you again.”
In another post, Wayne Crysel wrote:
Those of you who have known Andrew when he joined Cub Scouts back in 2007 know what I am talking about. My goal back then was to get him to socialize and experience camping and the outdoors . My goal was to get him to maybe First Class. Here we are 10 years later, and not only has he achieved his Eagle Rank (almost, awaiting board of review in August), has pretty much decided on his career of being a machinist/welder in which he has received special recognition several times at Wayne Tech, and returning to Camp Cutler to work for his second year as a counselor. I am quite proud of what he’s accomplished thus far in his young life and what he’s had to overcome in changing schools and life styles.
Wayne Crysel wrote in June 2018, “Today my grandson, Andrew, received an official job offer from a machine shop in Victor. They offered him an apprenticeship for the next 5 years, both training him first, then sending him to the Tech Center at MCC for certification. He starts July 9th at 8am. 40 hours + overtime. Now we need to concentrate on the drivers license, or I’ll have to put the uber sign on my truck.good luck,Andrew, I’m proud of you!”
Vetromile and Crysel shared a YouTube channel where they talked about guns, video games and conspiracy theories, according to The Daily Beast. In videos on the “Rebel Crysel” channel, a Confederate flag is seen prominently.
5. Colaneri, Vetromile & Crysel Are Being Held on $100,000 Bond at the County Jail, While the 16-Year-Old Is in Juvenile Custody on $1 Million Bail
Colaneri, Vetromile and Crysel are being held on $100,000 bail at the county jail. The 16-year-old is being held on $1 million bail in juvenile custody.
Muhammad Matthew Gardner, the spokesman for The Muslims of America Inc., who reside in Islamberg, issued a statement about the case:
First and foremost, we, as believers, express our sincere gratitude to God Almighty for we recognize that it is only through His protection and grace was this heinous plot thwarted. Secondly, we would like to publicly acknowledge the tireless efforts of the state, local and federal law enforcement officers who have, once again, intervened to prevent a would-be massacre of our humble community.
We applaud the young student who saved scores of American lives by reporting that something was wrong. Finally, we are thankful that representatives from Governor Cuomo’s office have been in contact with our community to offer support and assistance during this difficult time.
The fear and utter dismay that sent shockwaves throughout the children and adults in our community over the past several days is not unlike the panic and unease which our community endured after learning that Robert Doggart and his co-conspirators were planning a similar massacre in 2015.
It is beyond tragic that our nation continues to fester with Islamophobia, hate and religious intolerance. To bring justice and properly deter similar terrorist plots against our community, we are calling for the individuals charged, as well as their accomplices, to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We will follow these proceedings closely.
“Anyone accused of plotting an act of violence targeting a religious minority should face state and federal hate crime and civil rights charges commensurate with the seriousness of their alleged actions,” CAIR-NY Executive Director Afaf Nasher said in a statement to The Associated Press.
The Boy Scouts issued a statement about the case saying, “We are shocked and saddened to learn of allegations related to local youth at Greece Odyssey High School, who were also former members of our program. The alleged actions are in strong contrast to the values we teach in Scouting. Locally, over a quarter of the youth who live in our area go through one of our Scouting programs and it is always sad to see when our alumni appear in the news for negative reasons.”