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The Reason Behind The New Mexico Observatory Mystery? Child Porn.

Well, this took a turn.

Last updated on September 20, 2018, at 8:34 p.m. ET

Posted on September 19, 2018, at 11:10 p.m. ET

AURA

A janitor at the New Mexico solar observatory that was mysteriously shuttered earlier this month had allegedly been downloading and distributing child pornography, according to a federal search warrant, sparking scientists to suddenly close and evacuate the facility after they began to fear for their safety.

Without warning or explanation, the National Solar Observatory (NSO) evacuated the small group of scientists, researchers, and students who work at the remote, mountaintop Sunspot facility and shut down all operations for nearly two weeks earlier this month, igniting intense interest worldwide and fueling thousands of discussions as to what could be happening in New Mexico. People had posited a vast array of conspiracy theories for the closure, ranging from anthrax to apocalyptic solar flares, foreign government espionage, and, of course, aliens.

Sunspot finally reopened Monday. The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), which manages the observatory, explained in a statement that it had been "cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak."

The criminal activity, it turns out, was child pornography. The search warrant, filed Sept. 10 in federal court in Las Cruces, reveals how undercover FBI agents began noticing three IP addresses registered to the NSO in Sunspot, New Mexico, downloading and distributing child porn. The lengthy, detailed warrant explains the bizarre story that led investigators to believe that the janitor, 30-year-old Joshua Lee Cope, is the suspect.

Since July, the agents had been tracing and monitoring devices linked to the solar observatory, which had been downloading and distributing hundreds of files of child porn, the warrant states.

The agents contacted the observatory's director, thus setting off a months-long investigation. They discovered that one of the wireless access points was located inside the Dunn Telescope and that the individual was active online between 6 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. the next day, disconnecting for 30 minutes before reconnecting again.

On several occasions over the past few months, the observatory's chief observer said he had found a black laptop computer hidden in empty offices throughout the facility. One day, he opened it and saw a shocking, alarming picture, the warrant said. But he did not immediately report it because he became "distracted" by an urgent issue at the observatory.

As the investigation deepened, the observer told the FBI in August, what he had found, describing the "content of the desktop as 'not good,'" the court documents state.

Officials then narrowed the potential suspects down to three people who had a key to the facility and found only one of them whose timeline matched that of the online porn activity: Cope, who had started working at the observatory last year. The observer also noted that he had found the laptop next to cleaning supplies.

The entrance to the once-closed facility
Screenshot/YouTube

The entrance to the once-closed facility

After agents seized the computer, Cope started acting frantic and anxious, the warrant states, complaining about the "lax" security, claiming that some of his belongings had been stolen and that he believed someone had been sneaking in at night to "steal the wireless" and toilet paper. He began incessantly pressing the director to better secure the observatory and to change the codes to the doors.

During one outburst, the 30-year-old allegedly yelled, “I should be able to throw a laptop down in a room and not have to worry about stealing it."

His erratic behavior escalated, the warrant adds, and on Sept. 5, the chief observer contacted the FBI agent on the case and said he was concerned for his personal safety.

According to court documents, Cope had said "it was only a matter of time before the facility 'got hit' due to its remote location." During another exchange, the janitor allegedly said he believed there was a serial killer in the area who might come and "execute someone."

The next day, the National Solar Observatory and the National Science Foundation decided to close the observatory and evacuate the premises. FBI agents then searched Cope's trailer, where he lives on his parent's property, and seized a variety of computers, thumb drives, hard drives, phones, and documents. However, FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said Thursday that no one has been charged and the investigation remains ongoing.


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