This post has been updated. The criminal complaint is embedded at the end of this article.
FBI agents and local police seized an AR-15 rifle, a homemade bomb, a bulletproof vest, 300 rounds of ammunition and a plethora of other weapons, combat apparel and survival supplies from a former Cornell University student’s apartment last week, extracting the weaponry from the center of Collegetown in an operation that may have saved lives.
There is no threat to the campus or Collegetown, Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner said on Friday, but the Ithaca Police Department, the FBI and other agencies are investigating why the student was hoarding so much firepower and protective gear in his eighth-floor studio apartment, which overlooks downtown Ithaca and sits just 500 feet from the edge of campus.
Police arrested the former student, Maximilien R. Reynolds ’19, who is 20, and in a criminal complaint unsealed on Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Southwick accused him of four federal crimes: possessing an explosive bomb, possessing a homemade gun silencer, and two similar counts of providing false statements in acquiring a firearm by paying a friend to purchase the gun for him from a vendor in Tompkins County.
If convicted, Reynolds faces up to 40 years in prison.
The unassembled AR-15-style weapon found in Reynolds’ apartment was a Savage MSR-15 Patrol rifle, Derek Valgora, a special agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, said in an affidavit. Valgora said he also found a 10-inch NAPA brand fuel filter modified to form a silencer, which is illegal to own if it is not registered.
Inside a plastic bin with other fireworks, Valgora discovered a 4-inch-long mortar firework designed to be shot into the air from a launch tube. But the firework had been modified, Valgora said: someone had taped steel or lead shotgun pellets to its exterior to act as shrapnel that could inflict “injury or death” to anyone nearby when it exploded.
The modified firework is an explosive bomb and classified as a destructive device under federal law, Southwick said.
Among the other items police said they found in Reynolds’ apartment: a gas mask, body armor, chemicals that are frequently used to manufacture explosives, ball bearings that could be used as shrapnel in a bomb, pipes commonly used to assemble destructive devices, food rations and medical supplies for traumatic injuries. Many of the 300 rounds of live ammunition discovered, police said, were in high-capacity magazines compatible with the AR-15.
“Collectively all of these items certainly suggest a specific recipe for large scale destruction,” Ithaca Police Chief Pete Tyler said in a statement. “I’m very proud of the team of investigators who worked diligently and methodically to prevent any potential tragedy from occurring.”
Tyler told The Sun on Friday evening that police have no reason to believe a campus rumor that Reynolds was planning to target Slope Day. If anyone does have credible information relating to the investigation, he said, they should contact police.
Neither police nor prosecutors have indicated any motive for Reynolds’ alleged stockpiling of weapons, but the former student’s lawyer said in federal court in Syracuse on Friday that a mental illness may have led Reynolds to believe he needed to protect himself.
The lawyer, Raymond Schlather J.D. ’76, said Reynolds had been diagnosed with schizoaffective bipolar disorder with paranoid features, and said that what drives the former student’s behavior “is a huge paranoia of the world beyond him and protecting himself from that world.”
Schlather said Reynolds had been voluntarily receiving treatment at Cayuga Medical Center’s behavioral health unit since the March 7 raid on his apartment and up until he was taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service on Thursday night. The attorney also said in court that doctors had found his client poses “no threat to others or himself.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thérèse Wiley Dancks ordered that Reynolds remain in Marshals’ custody and undergo a medical evaluation to assess his competency before any further court proceedings take place. Reynolds did not enter a plea.
Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit and with short, dark brown hair and a faint beard, Reynolds sat beside his lawyer on Friday afternoon in court and answered the judge’s questions with “Yes ma’am.” His mother, who left the courtroom in tears moments after the arraignment began, reentered at the end of the proceeding to blow Reynolds a kiss and tell him she loved him as he was taken away in handcuffs.
Reynolds studied plant sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and is one of three children from a wealthy family in New Jersey. He is on leave from Cornell and was taking classes at Tompkins-Cortland Community College until his arrest, according to the ATF agent’s affidavit.
The former student had been living in the same apartment — in the Collegetown Plaza complex at 111 Dryden Rd. — for about two years, a student who lives in the apartment next door told The Sun.
Most people on the eighth floor of the building said they did not know Reynolds and couldn’t remember ever seeing anyone walk in or out of his room, 8K, until police and men in suits showed up in the hallway several times last week.
Nick Parker ’18 told The Sun that even though he has lived in the apartment next to 8K for the last two years, he had never learned Reynolds’ name.
“I’d see him around,” Parker told The Sun when asked about the person living next door. “He was super quiet.”
Parker said he saw officers in Reynolds’ apartment last week, “taking pictures, taking the whole place apart.”
The police inquiry began on March 7, when an unidentified Walmart employee now being described as a hero alerted local police that Reynolds had used a gift card to purchase large quantities of ammunition, camping gear, knives, tools and other items deemed suspicious at the store on Route 13.
“What started as a tip from a citizen at a local business about some suspicious behavior led to an alarming discovery,” Tyler said.
Following the tip, an Ithaca Police investigator and FBI special agents spoke with Reynolds’ girlfriend inside his apartment on March 7 and found the place in “severe disarray,” Valgora said, with “what appeared to be mathematical writings” on the windows in red ink and laboratory glassware strewn about the residence.
The unnamed girlfriend said she was concerned about Reynolds, who was at a community college class when police arrived, and she told investigators that he seemed manic, was not getting enough sleep and had stopped taking his medications, according to Valgora’s affidavit.
Police returned to the apartment later that evening and interviewed Reynolds, who said he had purchased a hacksaw blade to shorten the barrel of his rifle and later gave investigators written and oral consent to search the residence, authorities said. He also said he no longer wanted the rifle or any of the other weapons in his apartment and gave police permission to seize them, Valgora wrote.
Reynolds voluntarily agreed to be taken to Cayuga Medical Center for a psychiatric evaluation, the ATF agent said. Ithaca Police previously detained Reynolds in June of 2016 based on a New York law that allows authorities to detain people who appear mentally ill and pose a danger to themselves or others. The reason for that detainment has not been released.
Police met with a man on March 8, the day after the Walmart tip, who told police that Reynolds, in the fall of 2017, had offered the man $1,000 to purchase a rifle for him. The man, identified in court documents as A.R., told police that Reynolds said he was prohibited from buying the gun himself and paid A.R. in cash, giving him an additional $200 as a fee, Valgora wrote in the affidavit.
Southwick, the prosecutor, argued that in directing A.R., who he said was a friend of Reynolds’, to purchase the weapon, Reynolds had also directed A.R. to falsely certify that he was the purchaser, when in fact the weapon was being bought for Reynolds. That purchase is the basis for the two charges claiming Reynolds provided false statements.
Police also combed through a storage unit about five miles outside of the City of Ithaca. In one of two i-Deal Self Storage units in the town of Caroline rented in Reynolds’ name, federal and state bomb technicians found chemicals common in manufacturing homemade explosives, as well as a pyrotechnic fuse, the ATF agent said.
A woman who answered the phone at i-Deal Self Storage earlier this week declined to give her name but said the storage company had complied with a recent police search warrant.
A person briefed on the investigation said police seized Reynolds’ MacBook computer as well, and Parker, the student who lives next door, said that while passing by Reynolds’ apartment on March 8, he saw and heard people who he assumed were police debating whether to take just the hard drive or the whole computer.
“Obviously, they displayed a warrant at some point, and we cooperate with law enforcement and that’s their job,” Nathan Lyman, the chief operating officer of Ithaca Renting, which owns the property, told The Sun earlier this week.
At Friday’s arraignment in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, Schlather argued that the criminal complaint and Valgora’s affidavit should remain sealed because publicity surrounding the case would “create a media war” impeding Reynolds’ right to a fair trial down the road.
“We all know the political atmosphere out there,” Schlather said.
Dancks, the judge, sided with the prosecution in unsealing records in the case.
Last week’s searches and seizures raise questions about how a former Cornell student was able to hoard weapons and combat materials in his Collegetown apartment without drawing attention. Police have not indicated any motive for what they said was Reynolds’ acquisition of a vast array of weapons.
A review of social media entries, published reports, videos and other online posts reveals little to distinguish Reynolds from any other teenager, but he is tagged in three photos — posted on Facebook six years apart by two separate users — in which he is holding various guns.
One photograph posted in 2014 shows Reynolds and two other men aiming guns in the woods, attempting to take down a beehive, according to the picture’s caption.The other photographs, posted in 2008, show a pre-teen Reynolds with what appears to be a shotgun in one photograph and, in the other, an AR-15 in one hand and a small revolver in another.
“Max with his new 20 guage [sic],” the caption reads in the first picture. “Don’t mess with Max,” the other reads.
Reynolds was raised in Monmouth County and graduated from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in 2015, giving a speech at his graduation about the importance of seeking help from others to accomplish one’s goals. He ran cross country, made a charcoal drawing of an astronaut and won an award for a video podcast about the French language.
Reynolds’ father, Tim Reynolds MBA ’94, earned millions as a founder of Jane Street Capital, a Wall Street trading firm that trades more than $1 trillion a year, The New York Times reported in 2016. Tim left the firm in 2012, about 13 years after he founded it, to form a non-profit art education program called Ani Art Academies.
Tim, who was paralyzed from the waist down following a car accident in 2000, used a portion of his fortune to found and donate at least $2 million to the Tim Reynolds Family Spinal Cord Injury Center at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
Cornell’s vice president for University relations, Joel Malina, said in a message to Cornellians on Friday that the arrest, following the Walmart employee’s tip, “is a good reminder that we can all help to keep our community safe by immediately reporting suspicious activity.”