Three local men and a 16-year-old boy have been arrested and charged in a conspiracy to use improvised explosive devices in a targeted attack against a Muslim community near Binghamton. Police say the plot was discovered during a threat assessment investigation at Greece Odyssey Academy.
GREECE — Four suspects have been arrested and charged after Greece Police say they planned to attack a Muslim community near Binghamton.
Greece Police arrested Brian Colaneri, 20, of Gates; Andrew Crysel, 18, of East Rochester; Vincent Vetromile, 19, of Greece; and a 16-year-old Odyssey Academy student and charged each of them with three counts of criminal possession of a weapon and one count of conspiracy.
Greece Police say three of the four suspects knew each other because they were involved in Boy Scouts.
The suspects used a messaging app on their phones and gaming consoles to communicate, and police believe they had every intention of carrying out an attack on the Muslim community, a rural community in Delaware County west of the Catskills named Islamburg.
The Greece Police Department held a press conference Tuesday about an investigation involving Odyssey Academy on Friday.
Police Chief Patrick Phelan said during lunchtime on Friday, the 16-year-old suspect showed a picture of another student to a group of kids and said: "he looks like a school shooter, doesn't he."
A student at that table went to an adult about the comment which set off the entire investigation.
The student in the picture hasn't been charged with any crimes, but police say the student who showed the picture was part of the plot.
Phelan said there was never a threat against any Greece school, but police say through the investigation, they uncovered the plot that the three men and one teen had to harm a Muslim community.
Investigators say they have recovered 23 rifles and shotguns, all legal weapons, from multiple homes, and found three IEDs in the home of the 16-year-old suspect. The chief said it appeared the suspects had been planning the attack for about a month.
"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 said.
Investigators are going through boxes of computers, cell phones, gaming consoles, and tablets to see if others were involved or if the men were getting and/or giving direction to anyone else. Phelan did not rule out the possibility of additional arrests.
Phelan said it's possible federal charges will be filed.
Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said she is meeting with the U.S. attorney to decide whether terrorism charges are warranted.
Scout Executive Stephen T. Hoitt from Boy Scouts of America issued the following statement Tuesday regarding the investigation:
"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."
Greece Central School District Superintendent Kathleen Graupman said the students who reported the comment "changed the narrative."
"They trusted their instincts and used what they learned in school," she said.
Phelan, as well, credited the students who reported the lunchroom comment with saving lives.
"If they had carried out this plot, which every indication is that they were going to, people would have died," the chief said. "I don't know how many and who, but people would have died."
April Colaneri, Brian Colaneri's mother, said her son has never been in trouble before.
"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. She said her son and the other defendants had "been known to play-act."
"Like Dungeons and Dragons and things," she said. "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. His hearing is on Wednesday and 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 said all he had were firecrackers and "an old electrical box that was down in the cellar."
Wayne Crysel, Andrew Crysel's grandfather, had no comment but did note that his lawyer is trying to reduce his grandson's bail.
Nobody answered the door at Vincent Vetromile's home, but a neighbor, Ron Gerth, recalled him as a "nice boy" who used to come over and rake Gerth's yard when he was very young.
"Wow. I'm surprised to hear that," Gerth said when he heard about the accusation. "I would not have known that. He is a nice, polite boy."
The rural community in Delaware County is operated by The Muslims of America, an indigenous American Muslim organized based in the U.S., which runs 21 others in North America. It was settled by followers of Pakistani cleric Sheikh Mubarik Gilani. The mostly African-American settlers first came to the area in the 1980s to escape crime and crowding in New York City.
Police and analysts have dismissed accusations that the 60-acre community is a terrorist training ground, but the claims have persisted for decades.
In 2017, a Tennessee man was convicted on federal charges for what authorities called plans to burn down Islamberg's mosque in 2015. Robert Doggart, now 67, is serving time in federal prison.
A message seeking comment about the new arrests was sent to The Muslims of America.
The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for federal charges in addition to the state charges.
"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.
Includes reporting from The Associated Press
Watch Tuesday's news conference in its entirety below:
Three local men have been arrested and charged in a conspiracy to use improvised explosive devices in a targeted attack against a Muslim community near Binghamton.
Greece Police arrested 20-year-old Brian Colaneri of Rochester, 18-year-old Andrew Crysel of East Rochester, and 19-year-old Vincent Vetromile of Greece, and charged each of them with three counts of first-degree criminal possession of a weapon and one count of fourth-degree conspiracy.
According to court paperwork, all three are accused of having multiple IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) in the shape of medium to large-sized cylinders and mason jars wrapped in duct tape. Each man is charged with the intent to the IEDs in a plot against Islamberg, Delaware County, located about 40 miles east of Binghamton.
Greece Police have not yet released their mugshots.
This is a developing story. Messenger Post Media along with our news partner, News10NBC will continue to follow this story.