One of the men arrested for allegedly plotting to attack a Muslim enclave in upstate New York was “manipulated” by his codefendant friend who allegedly gifted him BB guns and took him target practicing, a family member told BuzzFeed News.
Vincent Vetromile, 19, Brian Colaneri, 20, and Andrew Crysel, 18, each face three felony weapons charges and one count of conspiracy for allegedly plotting to set off explosives in the town of Islamberg, a rural settlement along New York’s border with Pennsylvania. A fourth person, who police have not identified because he is 16, faces the same charges and is being prosecuted as a juvenile offender.
Attorneys for the three men did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Colaneri’s grandmother, Kathleen Englert, told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that her grandson has Asperger’s syndrome and that he was “manipulated” by Vetromile.
Englert said her grandson and Vetromile were friends — “they’re neighborhood kids” — who also knew each other from the Boy Scouts. Vetromile often hung out at Colaneri’s house, she said. Colaneri’s mother, April Colaneri, told 13WHAM that all three men were friends who played video games together and that her son knew Crysel from working together at a dollar store.
“My grandson makes friends easy,” Englert said, describing Colaneri as “very smart but not street wise,” and “gullible.”
“Vinnie’s been coming back and forth to the house, like teens do,” she said, adding that the men were always on their computers and phones.
April Colaneri confirmed to WETM that her son has autism, stating that he was just going along with what his friends were doing.
Englert, who is Colaneri’s maternal grandmother, said that Vetromile had gifted her grandson BB guns, had taken him target practicing, and invited him to go camping.
“I think my grandson was manipulated,” she said. “Why would this guy buy him BB guns and train him how to shoot?”
Chris Torres — a friend of Colaneri’s who was often tagged in Facebook posts — told BuzzFeed News that he has known Colaneri for about four or five years. He said he’d only heard of Vetromile but knew of Crysel.
Torres and Colaneri met through the video game AdventureQuest Worlds. While they have never met in person — Torres lives in Missouri — the two would talk almost daily over the phone, Skype, and the app Discord. Crysel has been on the calls as well, Torrres said.
The attack, which police said was planned via the app Discord — a platform popular with video gamers and, more recently, the far right — had been in the works for at least a month, officials said Tuesday.
While the motives behind the alleged plot remain unclear as to why the suspects had targeted Islamberg, Vetromile used his social media accounts to rage against Muslims.
As was first reported in the Daily Beast, Vetromile also praised President Donald Trump and repeated right-wing conspiracy theories on his social media accounts.
“KILL THEM ALL and nobody will be left to attack us,” Vetromile tweeted about Muslims in 2016.
On Twitter, he referred to Hillary Clinton as “Crooked Hillary” and called for her arrest, a rallying cry that was at the foundation of Trump’s campaign. Vetromile also used the platform to repeat baseless right-wing conspiracy theories, including sharing a doctored birth certificate intended to show that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
It appears Vetromile shared his YouTube channel with Crysel — the third adult codefendant in the case. On the page, titled “Rebel Crysel,” the men share videos reviewing a wide range of guns.
In the first video uploaded to the channel, Vetromile says the page “focuses on different types of weaponry.” He uses the alias “Robert Brutman” when introducing himself, and in several videos, Vetromile is seen sitting in front of a Confederate flag.
Police said that the group stockpiled 23 firearms and three IEDs and intended to use the weapons in what authorities called a “serious plot” against Islamberg.
A spokesperson for the Monroe County District Attorney declined to comment on the social media posts, citing an ongoing investigation.