Friends described the former Cornell student who police said kept an AR-15 rifle, homemade bomb and vast array of survival gear in his Collegetown apartment as an unpredictable and compassionate 20-year-old who prided himself on being self-sufficient but struggled with bipolar disorder and a nagging paranoia prior to his arrest.
Maximilien R. Reynolds ’19, a plant sciences major, had been on a forced academic leave from Cornell for at least two semesters before his arrest and was taking classes at Tompkins Cortland Community College while he worked at a Cornell professor’s home and farm, helping with small tasks and landscaping.
Reynolds was kind and funny around his peers, suffered from insomnia, took a combination of medications and harbored an irrational fear that someone would attack him or people close to him, according to interviews with nine people who know him. Some said they were concerned, in retrospect, that they had underestimated his paranoia.
Reynolds “wanted to be prepared for any event, and I think he may have taken that thinking to the extreme,” said Edwin Kye ’19, a close friend.
“This sounds a little crazy, but one of the things he used to tell me he was concerned about was a school shooting,” Kye said. “And in that situation, he thought he’d be equipped to handle that situation.”
Kye and others said they wrote off many of Reynolds’ comments, seeing him as an excessively cautious individual, and never thought he would amass the firepower police said they found in his apartment.
Many friends said they couldn’t picture Reynolds hurting anyone, and that if he did have the weapons described by federal agents, they must have been for protection from some imagined threat.
Reynolds has been charged with four federal crimes and Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Southwick accused him of owning a gun silencer, possessing a bomb and paying a friend to purchase the AR-15 rifle for him.
Many of his friends said they were shocked when The Sun reported on Friday that police had raided Reynolds’ residence on March 7 and found the rifle, bomb, 300 rounds of ammunition, body armor, chemicals, trauma kit and more in his eighth-floor studio apartment in Collegetown Plaza.
Reynolds’ attorney, Raymond Schlather J.D. ’76, said Reynolds was diagnosed with schizoaffective bipolar disorder with paranoid features and had “a huge paranoia of the world beyond him.”
On Friday, a federal judge ordered that Reynolds undergo a competency evaluation before the criminal case proceeds further. He is in the custody of U.S. Marshals and has not entered a plea in the case.
Reynolds was raised in Monmouth County, New Jersey, and his father, Tim Reynolds MBA ’94, earned millions as a founder of Jane Street Capital, a Wall Street trading firm.
Reynolds drove a 2017 Subaru registered to his mother, authorities said, but he told some friends that he was struggling financially despite his family’s wealth. Kye said Reynolds viewed his family’s wealth as a matter of chance and didn’t like to ask for money from his parents.
“He would just wear boots and jeans and this big green jacket every day,” Kye said. “He never cared what he wore.”
In the spring of 2017, Reynolds told Patty Chan ’18 that he was relieved to secure the landscaping job for $12 an hour, saying he would finally be able to pay his living expenses and eat a full lunch every day.
Prof. Kevin Nixon, plant biology, said Reynolds was very quiet when he first hired him to work on the property and that he would have “good days and bad days,” sometimes finding it difficult to follow directions.
“I kind of became attached to him because he’s extremely likable,” said Nixon. “Never at any point in time did he voice any ideas of violence, any anger, and I never felt uncomfortable at all around him.”
Police have not identified any motive for Reynolds’ hoarding of weapons as described in a criminal complaint. Vincent Monticello, deputy chief of the Ithaca Police Department, told The Sun over the weekend that police are still investigating why he had the weaponry and combat gear.
“We are still looking into what his plans were and if there’s somebody out there who does have any information we’d love to hear from them,” Monticello said.
Federal agents also seized the former student’s laptop and are scrubbing it for information, according to two people familiar with the seizure.
Nixon said Reynolds kept a knife in a sheath strapped to his leg while landscaping and enjoyed using it for opening boxes and other tasks, but Nixon said he never felt uncomfortable when Reynolds used it around him.
Police interviewed Nixon following the March 7 raid of Reynolds’ apartment and asked him about the former student, whom Nixon employed but never taught at Cornell. The weapons in Reynolds’ apartment show that he “clearly was a danger,” Nixon said, adding that he was glad police arrested Reynolds but hopes the student avoids prison and gets any treatment he needs.
“At this point, there’s only one victim and that’s Max, and he’s the victim of his own disease,” Nixon said. “I don’t think anyone gets anything from scapegoating him as some kind of evil force.”
Many people who know Reynolds said he is an incredibly smart person who enjoys teaching himself math and history and learning about plants.
“He was always a diligent worker in labs just like all of us, and like me, he shared a passion for the botanical world,” Yuqi Chen ’19 said, describing Reynolds’ freshman year at Cornell, when she took several classes with him.
“He had an insatiable curiosity and was really driven to understand the world around him,” Chan said of Reynolds’ time at Cornell.
Reynolds had hoped to return to Cornell and applied to come back in the fall. Reynolds told Nixon that the University rejected his application because some kind of mix-up at the community college had left him with an “incomplete” marking for a class he had intended to drop.
“He was going through a really rough time in his life … and it very much seemed to be a roller coaster,” Chan said. “In October, he sent a text and it seemed like he was very much on an upward trend, and afterward he sent me something that indicated he was in a bit of a troubled spot both financially and emotionally.”
Several friends said they lost touch with him at various points in the past year.
Chan said she hadn’t spoken to him since November, when he was “stressed about his life situation and [there were] a lot of people near and dear to him that he was worrying about.”
Reynolds’ girlfriend, identified in court documents as N.H., told police that she was concerned that Reynolds seemed manic, was not getting enough sleep and had stopped taking his medication.
But others said he appeared to be doing better in the months leading up to the arrest, seeming to indicate the changing nature of Reynolds’ persona.
Reynolds told Kye that he was starting to enjoy Ithaca more in recent months and the two explored the community, frequently getting dinner at a Chinese restaurant on College Avenue.
“Surprisingly, I had a lot of conversations with him in the weeks before the [arrest] and he seemed 100 percent normal, as he had been before,” Kye said. “Actually, even more so. … He was super [responsive] and very alert. This was a complete shock to me.”
When he first began working at Nixon’s property, he would apologize frequently and profusely for minor mishaps and was very timid, Nixon said, but over time, Reynolds appeared to slowly come out of his shell.
Some said they were surprised, at times, by Reynolds’ restraint in moments that could make an average person furious. Once, in freshman year, a drunk student accidentally stepped on and killed Reynolds’ pet turtle, Kye said, and while Reynolds was upset, he told the student not to worry and that he understood it was unintentional.
Nixon said Reynolds showed up late one day to work after popping a tire while backing over a broken glass bottle that was behind one of his car’s wheels. Reynolds told Nixon that someone may have placed the bottle there intentionally, but he was disgusted — not angry — about the possibility.
But Reynolds also carried some irrational worries, friends said. He was detained by Ithaca Police in June of 2016 and stayed at Cayuga Medical Center, according to an affidavit filed in court and a friend at Cornell.
Sarah Marino ’19, a plant sciences major, said she spoke with Reynolds frequently in the fall semester of their freshman year. He was kind, but spent a lot of time alone and spoke to her several times about trying to find a specific plant with poisonous berries, which she found odd.
Chan said that “while he could be perceived as a loner by people who didn’t know him well, he was the kind of person that could open up in a smaller group” and that there is “a bit of unpredictability with his personality.”
Reynolds also was concerned, with no apparent evidence, that someone was going to hurt his younger sister at Cornell, according to Kye.
He was worried about someone attacking his loved ones, “and so that’s why he accumulated what he had,” Kye speculated. “He was 100 percent defensive in nature. He never talked bad about anyone, never had any grudges.”
“In this current climate, if you didn’t know him, then you would naturally jump to conclusions,” Kye said, stressing that the stereotype of the white, male school shooter doesn’t apply to Reynolds.
“It wasn’t like he was isolated or ostracized or anything like that,” Kye said. “Anyone who knew him liked him.”