When police arrested 22-year-old Christopher Brown on Saturday morning, he was wearing a black T-shirt that read “I Have a Gun and I’m schizophrenic.” He was carrying a bag that contained a hunting knife, a black wool balaclava and a bracelet with a symbol of hatred.
“A Nazi swastika,” a police official told The Daily Beast.
Earlier this week, the NYPD’s intelligence division had noted that a person with the Twitter handles VrilKhan and Vrilgod had mixed incel messages with talk of body armor, firearms training, and “shooting a synagogue and dying.”
“Big steps will be taken on Friday,” a message said, the official said. “This time I’m really going to do it.”
The detectives traced the messages to an IP address associated with a veterinary hospital. They said they identified Brown as the person who had used the computer to talk about “big moves.” They traced him to physical addresses in Riverhead on Long Island and Dobbs Ferry in Westchester. But he was not at both locations.
Meanwhile, the police have issued Intelligence Alert #78340324, an internal BOLO (Be On The Lookout notice) for Brown. The BOLO attached a photo of him and reported, “The person mentioned above has made recent threats to unknown Jewish synagogues in the New York area.”
The BOLO went on to report some of what detectives say they learned as they tried to locate him: “This individual has a history of mental illness and has recently expressed interest in traveling to NYC to purchase a firearm. The subject should be considered armed and dangerous.
It was Friday then and the detectives knew that any moment could have brought the message that tweets had turned to terror. The Joint Terrorism Task Force had joined when the ongoing hunt for Brown led to an apartment on West 94th Street in Manhattan where a 22-year-old acquaintance named Matthew Mahrer lives with his parents. Neither Brown nor Mahrer were there, but detectives did find a Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol and a 30-round magazine in a backpack.
Fortunately, there was no “major movement” as the manhunt continued into the early morning hours of Saturday. The detectives received a tip that Brown and Mahrer were on their way to Penn Station. Around 3 a.m., sharp-eyed Metropolitan Transportation Authority officers spotted them there. The two were taken into custody.
Mahrer was charged with illegal possession of weapons. Brown was also held on gun charges. He could face further charges similar to those against 18-year-old Omar Alkattoul, who was arrested in New Jersey on Nov. 10 for “using social media to send a manifesto threatening to kill a . to attack the synagogue on the basis of his hatred of Jews. .”
Brown’s two Twitter accounts have been deleted. It was not immediately clear whether he and Mahrer had engaged lawyers.
Saturday’s arrests in New York showed that more than two decades after 9/11, the NYPD and the JTTF are still on guard. And the nerve-racking night had ended without incident.
“Whether it was the biggest thing in the world, maybe not, but this might have turned into something if they hadn’t stopped it,” a police official said.
He added, “We’ll never know if that’s true. But one thing is certain: they are on top of it.”