Kurt Villani and his wife Monica Villani were identified as the couple who died in a explosion at the Rainbow Bridge, a border crossing between the United States and Canada, on November 22, 2023, according to the Niagara Falls Police Department.
Kurt Villani hailed from a well-known family lumberyard business in western New York and was a registered Republican, according to a family obituary for his dad and New York State records. Monica Villani was a registered Democrat, according to state records.
Kurt Villani and his son Kurt P. Villani Jr. were pictured in Niagara Frontier Publications for a 2014 story about them helping a local food bank collect turkeys, money and food, a tradition started by Kurt P. Villani’s parents, Kurt M. Villani and Gail.
The bridge is located near Niagara Falls, New York. Sources initially told Fox News the car explosion was an attempted terror attack, but the FBI’s Buffalo office now says authorities do not believe the incident was terror-related.
The Niagara Falls Police Department wrote in a news release on November 24, 2023, that it “has identified the two occupants involved in the crash at the Rainbow Bridge on Wednesday 11/22/2023, as 53-year-old Kurt P. Villani and his wife 53-year-old Monica Villani, both of Grand Island New York. The incident is currently under investigation by the NFPD Crash Management Unit, no further details are available at this time. The City of Niagara Falls would like to extend our sincere condolences to the families as they deal with this tragedy.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Kurt Villani & Monica Villani Were Traveling in a Bentley to a Cancelled KISS Concert & Then a Casino, Reports Say
Authorities don’t believe the incident involves terrorism at this point, the FBI’s Buffalo office wrote on X.
According to CNN, investigators think the car explosion involved a man and his wife, now identified as the Villanis, who were in a Bentley going “at a high rate of speed.”
CNN reported that the car hit a curb, which precipitated the explosion. Both were killed in the explosion. According to the Associated Press, security camera video released by the U.S. government “showed the car race through an intersection on a wet road, hit a low median and vault high into the air in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection area just east of the main vehicle checkpoint.”
The car then “crashed into a line of booths out of the camera’s view,” AP reported.
Kurt Villani and his wife live in New York State and “had plans to attend a KISS concert in Canada but when it was canceled, went to a casino in the US instead,” CNN reported.
The FBI Buffalo Field Office confirmed that it “is investigating a vehicle explosion at the Rainbow Bridge, a border crossing between the US and Canada in Niagara Falls.”
According to the story on turkey collecting, the tradition of donating turkeys was started by Kurt Villani’s parents who “began a tradition with their children and grandchildren of donating 250 turkeys on Jickster’s opening day.” The article says that the grandson, Kurt Jr., was doing community service at a local food bank.
2. Kurt Villani Was a Registered Republican With a Property Worth Over $1.5 Million, But Monica Villani Was a Registered Democrat
New York State voting registration records identify Kurt P. Villani, 53, of Grand Island, New York, as a registered Republican.
Monica Villani is listed in state records as a registered Democrat, the state records show.
Property records say the address attached to Villani has a value of at least $1.6 million. He has previous addresses in Niagara Falls.
The incident sparked later debunked terrorism fears because of news reports that terroristic threats had increased in New York right before the explosion.
On November 20, 2023, CBS News reported that the network had “learned Monday of increased threats of a possible terror attack in New York City as a direct result of the escalating violence in the Middle East.”
“We don’t really know too much – just that there was a vehicle trying to come into the US and they shut down both sides of the bridge,” Aaron Ferguson, public information officer for the city of Niagara Falls, told CNN.
3. Kurt P. Villani Was the Son of a Couple Who Built a New York Lumberyard Into 7 Locations Throughout Western New York
Kurt P. Villani was the son of Kurt M. Villani, who died in 2022 at his residence in Grand Island, New York. The father operated Gui’s Lumber/Ace Hardware with his wife, Gail, “since the mid-1980s,” the obituary for the father says.
It says that “along with his wife and children, he grew the business to seven locations throughout western New York.” That lumberyard has a Facebook page.
The obituary says Kurt was survived by his son “Kurt P. (Monica) Villani” as well as a daughter and four grandchildren. Mourners were asked to donate to the Niagara Falls Boys’ and Girls’ Club in lieu of flowers.
The lumber empire was started by a family ancestor named Guido Villani, according to his obit. It reads,
In the mid 1940’s Guido became the founder and proprietor of Cataract Door and Plywood Company in the Town of Niagara later known as Cataract Door and Lumber and Cataract Lumber and Home Center. The well known lumber company, currently operating as Gui’s Lumber and Home Center, is located on Porter Road in the Town of Niagara. Guido was an active member of several business and social area organizations including the LaSalle Sportsman’s Club, the Veterans of Foreign War, the Chamber of Commerce as well as a member and former officer of the Niagara County Builders Association and an officer in the former Bishop Duffy Men’s Club.
According to the Niagara Gazette, a border patrol agent suffered non-serious injuries.
The newspaper reported through law enforcement sources that the car was “traveling down Niagara Street,” when it “sped onto the bridge plaza, went through a fence separating the inbound lanes from the outbound lanes, and toward the inspection lanes where it exploded.”
4. The Family Lumberyard Faced Tax Fraud Charges That Were Dropped
The family’s lumberyard was investigated for, and then exonerated from, tax fraud charges, according to WGRZ-TV.
“Tax fraud charges against the owner of several Western New York Ace Hardware stores have been dismissed after a more than six month long investigation revealed she did not owe the state money,” the television station reported, saying that “Gail Villani owns seven Gui’s Lumber locations across Western New York, including one in Niagara Falls. Last September, Villani was charged with tax fraud. She was accused of owing the state $589,000 in state sales tax revenue over a four year period from 2005-2009.”
“Apparently, the New York State Tax Department was looking at other records, other third party records, that misled them in relation to what my client’s sales tax liability was. And by working with the District Attorney’s office in Niagara County, we were able to establish that that initial audit was not correct,” attorney Barry Covert told WGRZ.
Gail Villani is the mother of Kurt P. Villani, who died in the explosion.
Ivan Vitalii, a visitor to Niagara Falls from Ukraine, told the Niagara Gazette that he was at a 7-Eleven convenience store when a car left the parking lot and drove toward the bridge. He said it was the same car he later saw “on fire near the entrance to the bridge.”
“We heard something smash,” he said to the newspaper. “We saw fire and big, black smoke.”
Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority released a statement that read, “In response to the incident that is unfolding at the Rainbow Bridge, the NFTA is increasing security system-wide. Cars coming into the Buffalo Airport will undergo security checks and travelers can expect additional screenings. The buffalo and Niagara Falls Airports are fully operational. We advise travelers to give themselves time for these extra precautions in addition to holiday travel.”
5. The Villani Family Released a Statement Extending Gratitude for Prayers & Asking for Privacy
According to the Buffalo News, the Villani and Maniccia families and Gui’s Lumber released a statement that said, “We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all that extended prayers, condolences and well wishes. We are deeply touched. At this point, we are requesting privacy so we may begin the process of healing. Thank you.”
“A search of the scene revealed no explosive materials, and no terrorism nexus was identified,” the FBI’s Buffalo office said in a statement. “The matter has been turned over to the Niagara Falls Police Department as a traffic investigation.”
New York Governor Kathy Hochul wrote on X, “At my direction, @nyspolice is actively working with the @FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force to monitor all points of entry to New York. I am traveling to Buffalo to meet with law enforcement & emergency responders & will update New Yorkers when more information becomes available.”
According to Fox News, all border crossings between Canada and Northwestern New York were briefly closed, and government buildings were evacuated. There are four points of entry between Canada and New York, according to the U.S. government.