The revelation from police that a former Cornell student was hoarding an AR-15 rifle, ammunition and a homemade bomb in his Collegetown apartment has shattered many students’ image of Ithaca as a city immune to concerns faced by the rest of the country.
The FBI and local police’s finding of survival materials and weaponry is an unprecedented discovery in a student’s residence, officials said, and students said the raid brought the nationwide debate over guns and mental health to the University’s doorstep.
Maximilien Reynolds ’19, who was on leave from Cornell, is in the custody of U.S. Marshals and has been charged with four federal crimes including possessing a silencer and directing a friend to buy the rifle for him.
“Whenever you hear about events happening around the country over the news, it doesn’t affect you, … it just stays at the back of your head,” said Anthony Ko ’20. “But something like this, it’s at home, and it hits you hard.”
Ko lives in Cascadilla Hall, just across Dryden Road from Collegetown Plaza, the apartment complex where Reynolds lived, and which the FBI, Ithaca Police and state troopers raided on March 7. Inside Reynolds’ eighth-floor apartment, officers found 300 live rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest and other survival materials, The Sun previously reported.
The seizure of the rifle, high-capacity magazine clips and many survival items — a gas mask, chemicals, shrapnel, a trauma kit, food rations — from a Collegetown residence is unprecedented in recent memory, police officials said.
“I’ve been here 36 years,” Vincent Monticello, deputy chief of the Ithaca Police Department, said in an interview. “Occasionally, we have a suspicious device … but when it comes to this, this is something — the first time I’ve seen something like this.”
“I know where this is,” a Cascadilla Hall resident, Sarah Li ’20, said of Collegetown Plaza. “My friend lives in this building. I can probably see it when I look out of my window.”
Students who live in Collegetown Plaza told The Sun they were concerned that they did not learn of the arrest and seizure of the rifle, homemade bomb and other tactical supplies until Friday, when Reynolds was arraigned in court, more than a week after the initial raid on March 7.
“It’s frightening to know that someone who is in possession of guns and other artillery lives in the same building as I do,” said Shiana Kuriakose ’20. “Also, if this happened a week ago, why were building residents never notified?”
When investigators raided Reynolds’ apartment on March 7, he agreed to be committed to the behavioral unit at Cayuga Medical Center. Federal agents did not arrest and charge him until more than a week later, on Thursday night, when they learned of the possibility that Reynolds was going to be transferred to a different hospital, federal prosecutor Richard Southwick said in court.
Elizabeth Yardley ’19 heard about the arrest from friends and said she felt as if “the exterior world [is] seeping into a place like Cornell.”
“We mostly hear of shootings in high schools,” Yardley said, pointing to the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida last month that killed 17. “But college incidents are not unprecedented and I think we all need to realize that.”
“It seems so strange, hearing stories of shootings and other crimes at other universities, believing that it can never happen here,” Yuqi Chen ’19, a plant sciences major, said. “But this is the reality, I suppose.”
Zhun Che ’18 said the arrest of Reynolds arrest was a wake-up call that Cornell is not inside of a bubble.
“On campus, there is this sense that nothing can happen,” Che said, recalling that many of his friends frequently leave their doors unlocked.
Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner told The Sun that leaving doors unlocked “is never a good idea” and shows that many students do not fully understand the potential for danger in Collegetown or on campus.
“While on one hand I’m really proud that students can feel that kind of safety here in Ithaca, it’s necessary to face reality, and for students to take some basic measures to help preserve their own personal safety,” Zoner said.
The seizure of an AR-15 and wide array of chemicals and survival gear from a student’s Collegetown apartment may be without precedent, but it is far from the first time guns have been found on an Ithaca resident.
The unassembled AR-15 rifle police said they found in Reynolds’ apartment is the same style of semi-automatic weapon used in last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Florida.
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who represents Ithaca in Congress, said following the Florida shooting that he would vote against any ban on weapons like the AR-15, saying he was concerned that a law that did so would violate the Second Amendment.
“I’m afraid the knee-jerk reaction of banning certain items would pacify, but not solve the problem,” Reed told the Olean Times Herald.
For students in Ithaca, the mere possibility that police officers’ arrest of Reynolds may have saved lives has them advocating for improved gun control legislation.
“He asked someone to buy a gun for him,” Che said. “The fact that you can just ask a random person to buy you a gun, that points to a serious flaw.”
The ex-student’s lawyer, Raymond Schlather J.D. ’76, said in court that Reynolds had been diagnosed with schizoaffective bipolar disorder with paranoid features, a claim that some students said made them more concerned that he was apparently able to acquire a gun, even illegally.
“While I’m not in a position to comment on his personal situation, it is scary that someone diagnosed with such unstable mental health has access to weapons and guns like that,” Che said.
Ko said the case highlights that “in a campus this big,” students should look out for each other, and “if you think someone is having a bad day, you should take the time to help them out.”
“Everyday you see all these people and you don’t know what’s going on in their heads,” he said.
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs ’19 contributed reporting to this article.