Police: Four plotted to attack NY Muslim community with IEDs, 23 guns
ROCHESTER, N. Y. (WHAM) - Three men and a teenage boy have been arrested and charged in Greece for an apparent conspiracy to use improvised explosive devices and guns in a plot against an Islamic community located 40 miles east of Binghamton.
Greece Police arrested Vincent Vetromile, 19, Andrew Crysel, 18, and Brian Colaneri, 20, and charged each of them with three counts of first-degree criminal possession of a weapon and one count of fourth-degree conspiracy. A fourth suspect, a 16-year-old boy, was also arrested in connection to the investigation, and faces the same charges. He's not being named due to his age. He appeared in court Tuesday afternoon, and is being held on $1 million bail.
The four suspects were arrested over the course of a nine-hour period from 4:30 p.m. Saturday through 1:30 a.m. Sunday.
According to Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan, the investigation started following a conversation between students during lunchtime Friday at Greece Odyssey. During that period, Phelan said a 16-year-old student reportedly showed a photo of another individual to a peer and asked if the person in that photo looked like "the next school shooter."
Police said the student who was shown the photo reported the incident to school security, which prompted an investigation. School security involved Greece Police early in the investigation.
The student who had the photo on his phone, as well as the person who was in the photo, were interviewed. Phelan said a third person of interest, who was not a student, was later identified and all three were eventually brought in for questioning by Greece Police.
Through the investigation, Phelan said, police learned of the alleged plot against Islamberg, which is located approximately 50 miles northeast of Binghamton. Reports show Islamberg was founded in the 1980s as a place for African-American Muslim families to escape persecution in Brooklyn. Over the last 15-20 years, right-wing media outlets and conservative groups have claimed that the community is a terrorist training camp, citing no evidence for their claims.
Court paperwork details the conspiracy between the three men. Each is accused of having multiple IEDs in the shape of medium to large-sized cylinders and mason jars wrapped in duct tape. Each of the suspects is charged with "intent to use against...the persons and property" in Islamberg. Phelan described the IEDs as containing black powder, nails and BBs.
"There was a plan to attack this community with weapons," Chief Phelan said. When asked details about how the plot was to be carried out, he deferred to the Monroe County District Attorney's Office, saying they wanted to wait for some of the information to be withheld to preserve the integrity of the prosecution. He did confirm that the four suspects had been plotting the attack for approximately one month. They communicated through an app called Discord, which is typically used by people who are in the gaming community.
Phelan said a total of five search warrants were approved and executed, one at each suspect's home and one at the home of a fifth individual who has not been charged. Police said they recovered 23 firearms and three IEDs. "They had access to these weapons," Phelan said. "Some of them were their father's, some were their grandfather's, some of them I think they purchased themselves. So I think as far as ownership, I think that every spectrum is hit."
All of the explosive devices were found at the 16-year-old's home, Phelan said, and are currently being examined by the FBI in Quantico. A number of electronic devices, including phones and computers, have been seized for forensic analysis. The adolescent suspect is a student at the Greece Central School District and, police say, is the student who showed his peers the photo on Friday.
Chief Phelan confirmed Vetromile had been a student at Greece schools in 2015 and was removed from the district following some sort of disciplinary measure.
Three of the suspects were in the Boys Scouts of America together; two were Eagle Scouts, according to Phelan. Stephen Hoitt, Scout Executive for the Seneca Waterways Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said in an emailed statement that the organization was "shocked and saddened" to learn about the allegations against former members. The statement also says one of the suspects was removed from the organization, and that several of the suspects were no longer registered in the Boy Scouts of America. The suspects are prohibited from future participation in the organization's programs.
"Ethnic and religious diversity are very important to Scouting, and the BSA teaches youth to honor and respect the heritage of all people," Hoitt stated.
During a news conference Tuesday, officials commended the student who came forward to report the initial incident, saying that person's actions may have saved lives.
"As a school district and a community, we are deeply saddened and upset by what this investigation has revealed, but we are also incredibly grateful that young people refused to stand idly by. Students trusted their instincts and what they have learned from us in school.," said Greece Central School District Superintendent Kathleen Graupman. "These students came forward with information - supporting the idea that if you see something, you should say something. Their actions changed the narrative."
Greece Town Supervisor Bill Reilich praised law enforcement for their work.
"The fact that they came together swiftly, brought all the resources of the community together to bring this to a quick resolve in a matter of just, if not hours, just a couple of days, they all should be commended," said Reilich, "and all of our residents should be well aware that, on a daily basis, that they’re being served by one of the finest police departments in the country, and one that is on top of situations as they develop."
Chief Phelan and Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley confirmed that the U.S. Attorney's Office is involved in the investigation. Once the District Attorney's Office is able to secure indictments for all of the suspects involved, then the federal investigation will begin to pick up speed, Doorley said.
All three men were arraigned when they were brought into Greece Police Department. They were remanded to the Monroe County Jail in lieu of $50,000 cash bail or $100,000 bond. Crysel has since made bond. They are each scheduled to return to court on February 5 at 9 a.m.
Judge John DeMarco arraigned the 16-year-old suspect in juvenile court and set bail for him at $1 million.
Vetromile, Crysel and Colaneri all enrolled at Monroe Community College at various times. An MCC spokesperson confirmed that Vetromile was last enrolled during summer 2017, Colaneri was in fall 2017, and Crysel was in spring 2018. None were enrolled during the current semester.
The investigation has shaken the Greece community.
"On Friday my son did mention that they had a special announcement that they told kids if you see something, say something," said Valencia Metcalf, a parent within the Greece School District. "My oldest son lives less than 20 minutes from where they were targeting."
Some parents say they want more communication from the school, but school leaders say they were limited to what they could share, as to not compromise the investigation.
Phelan said the investigation is ongoing, and further charges may be possible.
In 2015, a Tennessee man was arrested for plotting an attack on the same community. Robert Doggart, 65, was tried and convicted on federal charges. He was later sentenced to 19 years in prison; his attorneys have filed an appeal.