Christopher Lee Cornell, the 20-year-old Cincinnati-area man accused of plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol and shoot down government officials and staff, was arrested Jan. 14, 2015.
- Cornell, of Green Twp., was arrested Jan. 14, 2015, at a Cincinnati-area gun range
- Principal of Oak Hills High School, where Cornell graduated in 2012, call him a "typical student"
- Congress warned that the Capitol "remains a potential target for terrorists"
UPDATE @ 9:49 p.m. ( Jan. 17, 2015):
Christopher Lee Cornell is no longer an inmate at the Butler County Jail, where he had been held following his Wednesday arrest by the FBI on terror-related charges.
Cornell, 20, of suburban Cincinnati, is now being held in the Boone County Jail in Northern Kentucky. According to online jail records, Cornell on Friday was booked into the Boone County facility as a federal prisoner.
It is not clear why he was removed from the Butler County Jail. Sheriff Richard Jones held a news conference Thursday, during which he described Cornell as the highest profile prisoner to ever be housed in his jail.
UPDATE @ 2:07 p.m. (Jan. 16, 2015):
U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Bowman ordered Cornell to be held without bond until his next hearing on Jan. 22. Defense attorney Karen Savir had asked that Cornell be released to his parents on electronic monitoring, saying he had never been in trouble, didn’t smoke or drink and wasn’t a flight risk.
U.S. Attorney Timothy Mangan argued that the plot was Cornell’s. Mangan told the court Cornell had packed his bags, planned to travel to Washington and left a cryptic letter to his family about where he was going so they wouldn’t come looking for him.
Savir requested that Cornell be referred to by his Islamic name, Rahell Mahrus Ubayday, during court proceedings. She also addressed his treatment at the county jail, saying Cornell wanted to be allowed to exercise his religious beliefs by having a prayer mat and a clock available to him. Savir also took issue with her client being kept in isolation and on suicide watch.
“He does not need to be in a suicide outfit with no underwear,” she said.
When Cornell entered the courtroom, his father, John Cornell, shouted, “Don’t trust anyone, Chris!” He sat in the front row with his wife, son and a cousin. A U.S. Marshal told the father that he could not talk to Cornell, and the father apologized.
Bowman said she would talk with the U.S. Marshals Service about Cornell’s requests and would issue an order if it were deemed necessary.
UPDATE @1:15 p.m. (Jan. 16, 2015): The father of Christopher Lee Cornell cried outside the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati today.
Two sketch artist recreated his image in minutes as he talked.
“I love my son, I have his back 100 percent of the way,” said John Cornell. “He is not mean spirited. He was talking about going back to school to be a nurse.”
Cornell said his son was searching for something, “but he wasn’t lost.” He said Christopher had had “never shot a gun in his life.”
Outside court, there are vehicles from The Department of Homeland Security. Dogs have sniffed the court room and halls for drugs and explosives.
UPDATE (Jan. 16) : Christopher Lee Cornell is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati this afternoon. His parents arrived to the court around 1 p.m.
UPDATE @ 3:54 p.m. (Jan. 15, 2015): Christopher Lee Cornell is being housed in the Butler County Jail through the county's contract to house federal prisoners, said Sheriff Richard Jones.
Cornell, 20, is segregated from the general population so corrections officers can “keep an eye on him,” the sheriff said.
“He is what we call a special prisoner,” said Jones, who added Cornell — accused of plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol and shoot government staff and officials — is the highest profile prisoner they’ve ever had in the jail, which typically houses between 200 and 300 federal prisoners daily.
Jones described Cornell as “pretty observant.”
“He is watching everything around him … he is quite capable of reading lips,” Jones said.
Cornell will be taken Friday morning from the jail to U.S. District Court in Cincinnati for a detention hearing before Magistrate Judge Stephanie Bowman.
UPDATE @1:05 p.m. (Jan. 15, 2015): Congressional staffers today were told by Capitol Hill police that they were never in danger because of an Ohio man who planned an attack on the U.S. Capitol, but warned staffers that that the Capitol "remains a potential target for terrorists."
“It is essential that every member of the House community maintain vigilance and security awareness at all times,” the message said. “We encourage all Members and staff to report anything of concern to the” United States Capitol Police.
In addition, the message said that the Capitol Hill police “remains in close coordination with the FBI and my office continues to monitor the situation. We will keep you informed of any important developments that may arise.”
UPDATE @12:58 p.m. (Jan. 15, 2015): Christopher Cornell is being held isolated from the general population of the Butler County Jail, according to Sheriff Richard K. Jones.
UPDATE @11:03 a.m. (Jan 15, 2015): Oak Hills High School Principal John Stoddard said Christopher Cornell, a 2012 graduate, was a "typical student."
“Christopher was not a disruption or a discipline problem in school. His teachers were shocked at the news of his involvement in this situation,” Stoddard said in a prepared statement. “Teachers at Oak Hills High School remember Christopher as a quiet, but not overly reserved, student who would participate in class and did not withdraw from his class work.”
UPDATE @ 9:25 a.m. (Jan. 15, 2015): John Cornell said he has gone from heartbroken to feelings of anger over his son's arrest. He said he does not think his son could have planned such an attack.
“He’s 20 going on 16,” he said. “He’s a big kid.”
Cornell said there’s “no way on the face of the Earth he plotted this.” He said he’s going to go to the Butler County Jail today to drop off money for his son. He said authorities won’t allow him to see his son until Saturday.
Cornell said his son has worked the Kohl’s on Harrison Avenue since August.
UPDATE @ 9:17 a.m. (Jan. 15, 2015): U.S. senators are reacting to the arrest of Christopher Lee Cornell.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, released the following statement: “I applaud the FBI and other law enforcement officials on their work to thwart this potential terrorist act. It is an important reminder of the very real threat that radical Islam continues to pose to the homeland.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, released this statement: “Once again, our dedicated law enforcement officials — state, local, and federal — have taken swift and appropriate action to keep our nation safe and secure. We must ensure that they continue to have the resources they need to safely and effectively perform their jobs.”
UPDATE @ 8 a.m. ( Jan. 15, 2015): The mother of the man accused of planning an attack on the U.S. Capitol said she wants the chance to talk her son.
“I’m just heartbroken,” Angela Carmen told CNN. “I just want to give him a big hug and bring him home cause he ain’t out to hurt nobody.”
Christopher Lee Cornell’s former classmates at Oak Hills High School, where Cornell was a wrestler, also reacted with surprise.
“He had great sportsmanship,” one man told CNN, asking not to be identified. “You’d sit in class, and you’d say something to him, and he would just smile. He wouldn’t even reply back to you. He always had big, bulgy eyes. I mean it really seemed like he could see right through you.” He added that Cornell was dedicated to his wrestling.
FIRST REPORT (Jan. 14, 2015):
A 20-year-old Cincinnati-area resident, Christopher Lee Cornell, remains in federal custody following his arrest Wednesday for allegedly plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol and shoot government staff and officials.
The resident of Green Twp. in Hamilton County is expected to appear soon in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati. He was arrested Wednesday after the FBI said he bought two M-15 semi-automatic rifles and 600 rounds of ammunition from Point Blank Range & Gun Shop in Colerain Twp.
According to court documents, the FBI began investigating Cornell after a confidential informant reported social media activity beginning this past summer that allegedly included statements, videos and other content expressing support for the terror group ISIS and for violent jihad.
Cornell used social media, posting messages under the alias Raheel Mahrus Ubayday. Court documents state he sent a Tweet to an FBI source: “I believe we should just wage jihad under our own orders and plan attacks and everything.”
The former member of the wrestling team at Oak Hills High School in suburban Cincinnati began learning about building pipe bombs and plotted to plant them near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and then go on a shooting spree targeting government employees and officials, the FBI alleges. He met with the FBI confidential source Oct. 17 and 18 in Cincinnati to discuss the attack, and told the informant he needed weapons and had wanted to “move” in December, according to court documents.
He was surrounded and taken into custody outside Point Blank West, 7266 Harrison Ave., by the FBI’s Cincinnati-Dayton Joint Terrorism Task Force — comprised of officers from multiple police agencies, including Dayton, Xenia and West Chester Twp.
Gun shop owner John Dean and development manager Greg Turner said they cooperated with the federal agents, and were told ahead of time that Cornell would be coming in to make a purchase.
Cornell arrived around 11:30 a.m., said Turner, who declined to release surveillance video of the incident at the request of law enforcement. Cornell was surrounded by agents and police and handcuffed outside the gun shop.
“We obviously love firearms and support firearms for the good guys, but anytime we can do anything to keep them out of the hands of the bad guys, we’re going to be involved with that,” Turner said. “It’s a really good feeling to see that system works.”
Aside from police interest in Cornell, he seemed “a little shy, a little bashful … but talkative” — nothing that would raise concern, Dean said.
“If I hadn’t been warned ahead of time, there wasn’t really anything about him that would have suggested he was involved in something like this,” he said.
The father of the 20-year-old terror plot suspect defended his son Wednesday when he spoke to our news partner WCPO-TV.
John Cornell Sr. expressed concerns his son may have been set up.
“I think that was the FBI that he had been going to the mosque with. I think that was the FBI that he had been corresponding with all the time … and I think … if he was making plots, they should have arrested him then,” John Cornell said. “I’m surprised they didn’t kill him.”
He denied that his son was capable of violence.
“He was like a big kid,” the elder Cornell told WCPO at the Green Twp. apartment he shared with his son. “His best friend was his cat, Mikey.”
His son recently took up an interest in Islam, John Cornell said, but never mentioned ISIS, according to an interview with CNN.
“He explained it to me, you know, that Islam wasn’t a terrorist group. It was a way of life,” he told CNN.