Bronx, NY – A former high school teacher was accused of paying students to take apart fireworks so he could use the gunpowder contained in them to make a bomb.
Christian Toro, 27, a teacher at Democracy Prep High School in the Bronx, was charged with unlawfully making an explosive and was ordered held without bail after police found more than 32 pounds of bomb-making ingredients stashed in his closet, the New York Daily News reported.
Tyler Toro, Christian’s twin brother, was also arrested. Both brothers were in court on Feb. 15.
Police said that teacher Christian paid high school students $50 an hour to take apart fireworks and extract the explosive powder, according to The New York Times.
A criminal complaint filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan said that investigators found diary writings referring to an “Operation Flash” in the men’s’ apartment. In a backpack belonging to Christian, they found a purple index card that read, “Under the full moon the small ones will know terror.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that officials “likely saved many, many lives” with the intervention and arrests. But officials have not provided details on a motive, target, or any plans to explode the bomb, according to the New York Times.
The investigation began Dec. 4, 2017, when a 15-year-old student called in a bomb threat to the Harlem charter school where Christian Toro worked, according to the complaint and John Miller, New York’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counter terrorism. The student was arrested.
On Jan. 9, Christian resigned his position at the charter school.
Three days later, his twin brother Tyler Toro returned a laptop computer that the school had given to Christian.
“After he resigned, Democracy Prep did a routine review of his laptop and was deeply disturbed by suspicious content,” said Jeffrey W. Schneider, a spokesman for Democracy Prep.
The review found a copy of a book with instructions for making explosives on the hard drive, and the school alerted the police.
Then police arrested Christian on Jan. 31, and charged with him raping a minor.
Bronx court records said that Christian took a 15-year-old student to his apartment for sex on two occasions, The New York Times reported.
Police said the rape charge was related to the investigation into the bomb threat, The New York Times reported.
The FBI and police interviewed the Toro brothers on Feb. 8, and Christian told the FBI he had the book on explosives because he was doing research on the 2013 Boston Marathon.
He said he didn’t mean to download it to his computer, and that he never built a bomb, the complaint said.
Law enforcement agents interviewed students on Feb. 14 who told them that at least two students had visited the Toros’ apartment between October and January, and helped break down the fireworks.
Authorities found a box that had bomb-making materials, including 20 pounds of iron oxide, five pounds of aluminum powder, and five pounds of potassium nitrate, in a closet at the Toros’ apartment.
They also found two pounds of powdered sugar, which the complaint said can be used as fuel in an explosive, firecrackers, and a bag of metal balls that could have been used as shrapnel in a bomb, the complaint said.
On the kitchen table, investigators found a diary containing the phrases “We are twin Toros strike us now, we will return with nano thermite” and “If you’re registered as a sex offender, things will be difficult. But I am here 100%, living, buying weapons, whatever we need.”
Neighbors described the brothers as good neighbors.
“They’re nice boys, pleasant, they held the elevator,” Rochelle Shapiro, 63, told The New York Times. “Why would someone want to do this?”
Both Christian and Tyler pleaded not guilty before a Manhattan federal magistrate judge on Thursday, and were held without bail, AM New York reported.