WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — When a student at Greece (N.Y.) Odyssey Academy made an offhand comment about the next school shooter, his classmates knew to report it. But instead of a school shooting plot, authorities discovered a conspiracy to engage in mass murder against a Muslim community in upstate New York, according to Circa partner WHAM.
As students at the high school gathered for lunch Friday, a 16-year-old student showed a picture on his phone to a classmate.
"He looks like the next school shooter, doesn't he?" said the unnamed 16-year-old, according to Greece police chief Patrick Phelan.
Authorities began an investigation after two students who found out about the incident notified school security, but what they found went far beyond the next school shooting. The 16-year-old was part of a plot involving three young adults who were planning an all-out attack on a Muslim community known as Islamberg, N.Y., more than three hours from the small Rochester suburb of Greece. Islamberg is located about 40 miles east of Binghamton.
Vincent Vetromile, 19, Andrew Crysel, 18, Brian Colaneri, 20, and the 16-year-old, whose name was withheld due to his age, had stockpiled an arsenal. It included 23 guns and three homemade pipe bombs by the time they were arrested. They now face charges of first-degree criminal possession of a weapon and fourth-degree conspiracy. Terrorism charges have not been filed, but Monroe County (N.Y.) District Attorney Sandra Doorley said the U.S. attorney was involved in the investigation and did not rule out federal charges. Phelan also did not rule out the possibiity of other co-conspirators being involved.
While the U.S. has robust laws targeting foreign terrorist organizations, there are no federal laws which can be used to charge suspects with domestic terrorism at the federal level. That said, several U.S. states, including New York, have their own laws on terrorism.
It's unclear how the conspirators knew each other, though three of them are known to have been in Boy Scouts together. The adults were also enrolled at Monroe Community College at various times, but it is unclear if their dates of attendance overlapped. They are known to have coordinated their plans over Discord, a popular chat room app built for gamers.
Islamberg is a small hamlet of about 200 people in the town of Tompkins, which is located along the New York-Pennsylvania border in the Catskill Mountains. It was founded in the 1980s by Mubarak Ali Gilani, a Pakistani clerif from the Sufi sect of Islam. The headquarters for The Muslims of America, an organization founded by Gilani in 1980, is located there.
This isn't the first time Islamberg has come under threat. Conspiracy theorists have claimed it is a secret terrorist training camp. In 2015, Robert Duggart of Tennessee was arrested and charged with plotting to recruit a militia and attack the town's mosque. He is now serving a 20-year sentence.
"It is beyond tragic that our nation continues to fester with Islamophobia, hate and religious intolerance," The Muslims of America said in a statement, as reported by The New York Times.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the attack "repugnant" in a statement, and has directed state police to assist in the investigation and step up patrols in the Islamberg area.
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