GREECE, N.Y. – An offhand remark by one student to another about a cell phone photo of an individual resembling the next school shooter led police in this Rochester suburb to uncover a plot to attack a Muslim enclave in a wooded area 200 miles away.
Authorities reported Tuesday the arrest of three young men and the 16-year-old who made the remark as principals behind the plan, recovering improvised explosive devices and multiple firearms they said were intended to be used against residents of Islamberg.
Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan said the photo comment occurred Friday noon in the cafeteria of Greece Odyssey Academy, and led the second student to report his concern to school security officials. Police were notified and Phelan said an investigation turned up the “serious plot” to attack Islamberg.
“If they had carried out this plot, and we have every indication that was what they were going to do, people would have died,” said Phelan. “The kid who said something saved people’s lives.”
Islamberg is a tiny community established in 1980 by Muslims from Brooklyn who said at the time they wanted to flee big city crime and crowds for a better rural life to raise children and practice their religion. It is located 120 miles northwest of New York City near the Catskill Mountains in Delaware County. The hamlet is 200 miles southeast of Greece.
The enclave of some 200 Muslims has been the subject of protests and false terror activity accusations by conspiracy theorists and right-wing websites over the years. A Tennessee man was sentenced to 19 ½ years in federal prison in 2017 for planning an attack on the encampment.
Phelan identified the suspects arrested in the latest plot as Brian F. Colaneri, 20, of Gates, New York; Andrew C. Crysel, 18, of East Rochester, New York, and Vincent R. Vetromile, 19, of Greece. The 16-year-old suspect was not identified due to his age.
Each was charged with three state counts of first-degree criminal possession of a dangerous weapon and one count of fourth-degree conspiracy. They could also face federal charges.
Investigators said they found three homemade bombs at the home of the 16-year-old, and an assortment of 23 shotguns and rifles in the possession of the other suspects. The bombs were described in court documents as cylinders packed with nails, BBs and black powder and wrapped in duct tape.
“There was a plan to attack this (Muslim) community with these weapons,” said Phelan.
The police chief said the investigation had not yet determined the tie between the 16-year-old and the older suspects, but that the latter three knew each other through Boy Scouts, two of whom were Eagle Scouts.
Officials of the Greece School District expressed regret that a student at its Odyssey Academy was involved while also commending the student who reported his concern to the school officials.
"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," said Superintendent Kathleen Graupman.
Details for this story were provided by The Daily Star of Oneonta, New York.