ITHACA, N.Y. — What started as a tip from a concerned Walmart employee turned into a federal investigation that quickly revealed what police called an “alarming discovery” of weapons and other items in a former Cornell University student’s apartment.
Documents filed in court reveal more about the investigation that led up to the arrest of 20-year-old Maximilien R. Reynolds.
On March 7, Reynolds purchased firearms and ammunition, as well as camping gear, drill bits, miscellaneous tools, hacksaw blades, knives and additional items that set off alarm bells for an employee. After the purchase, the employee contacted local police and investigators quickly discovered that Reynolds had more items, such as explosive materials, in his apartment and in storage units. On Thursday, Reynolds was arrested and charged with federal crimes.
Reynolds was on a leave of absence from Cornell University and taking classes at Tompkins Cortland Community College, according to court records. He still lived close to Cornell in Collegetown at 111 Dryden Rd.
A criminal complaint was filed Friday in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. Reynolds has been charged with two counts of possession of an unregistered destructive device/silencer, false statement in acquisition of a firearm and false statement in required firearm record.
An affidavit filed by Derek Valgora, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, sheds more light on the investigation that led to Reynolds’ arrest Thursday. The investigator said he was contacted March 7 by an FBI special agent to check Reynolds’ apartment for explosive materials.
The Ithaca Police Department and local FBI agents had responded to the apartment earlier in the day March 7 to talk to Reynolds, but instead spoke to his girlfriend who invited them in. Investigators say the small apartment was “in severe disarray, with random piles of clothing, food, laboratory glassware, and other items strewn about. What appeared to be mathematical writings were written on the west facing windows of the apartment in red ink,” the complaint states.
When speaking with investigators, his girlfriend said Reynolds seemed to be “manic,” not taking his medications and getting very little sleep. Investigators say they observed a bulletproof vest while in the apartment talking to her. They also spotted “military-style” clothing, knives, flashlights and what appeared to be a gas mask. Though the girlfriend initially consented to a search of the apartment, she then said she wanted Reynolds to be present to consent.
Investigators did speak to Reynolds later in the day. Records state that Reynolds acknowledged he had purchased ammunition and other items at Walmart earlier in the day. He initially denied having any weapons in his apartment, but later stated he did have a rifle, the complaint states. Reynolds said he purchased the rifle from a Tompkins County federally licensed firearms dealer, and he had purchased a hacksaw blade and other equipment to shorten the barrel of the rifle. After, Reynolds provided verbal and written consent for investigators to search his apartment and said they could take those items into custody, the complaint states. He also voluntarily agreed to be taken to Cayuga Medical Center for a psychiatric evaluation.
Reynolds has had contact with Ithaca police before, records state, when he was detained in 2016 related to mental health.
Local attorney Ray Schlather is representing Reynolds. He said Reynolds was sick and in the midst of treatment at Cayuga Medical Center’s Behavioral Sciences Unit at the time of his arrest Thursday night.
“The Court, quite correctly, has directed that his treatment continue, and that his mental health be evaluated before any court proceedings go forward,” Schlather said in an email Friday. “Accordingly, no plea has been entered. All preliminary indications are that the materials and conduct at issue were defensive in nature, and that no one was under threat or in jeopardy.”
Police previously have said Reynolds possessed an unassembled AR-15 rifle, a gas mask, homemade silencer, ammunition, materials used to make destructive devices, fireworks and other items. According to investigators, the fireworks included a “mortar” round that appeared to have shotgun shell pellets taped to the outside of the device to provide fragmentation. The complaint states “firework items normally do not have items affixed to them which might cause injury to people nearby.”
Investigators found that someone from Ithaca has purchased a rifle for Reynolds sometime in the autumn of 2017. Records do not name the person. Reynolds allegedly provided $1,000 cash, plus $200 to them to buy the rifle.
In addition to searching Reynolds’ apartment, investigators also searched his car and two storage units he was renting. In the storage units on Slaterville Road in Ithaca, investigators report finding chemicals commonly used to manufacture homemade explosives as well as smokeless powder, a consumer firework mortar round and a pyrotechnic fuse.
The cache of weapons and other materials left police stunned, a news release Friday said. Ithaca Police Chief Pete Tyler said the investigation is a successful example of “see something, say something.” He further said all of the items collectively “certainly suggest a specific recipe for large-scale destruction.”
Reynolds is currently in custody without bail pending a hearing. He appeared in court Friday, where a competency evaluation was ordered.
The charges Reynolds are currently facing for the possession of a firearm and silencer both carry a maximum of up to 10 years in prison with fines up to $10,000 dollars. The charge alleging that Reynolds aided and abetted in the ‘straw purchase’ of a rifle could also carry up to 10 years in prison and fines may reach $250,000 dollars.