A so-called incel who fantasized about blowing up a shopping mall and killing “hot cheerleaders” pleaded guilty Friday to one count of possessing an unregistered destructive device.
Cole Carini of Richlands, Virginia, reportedly idolized mass shooter Elliott Rodger, an “involuntary celibate,” or “incel,” who in 2014 murdered six people in California and injured 14 others before taking his own life. Many legal scholars say incel-related violence, which has been linked to at least 53 deaths in recent years, is a form of domestic terrorism. The “incel movement” is comprised of young men who feel angry at women for rejecting them.
The Carini case, however, includes a previously unreported twist: His mother testified in court this summer that her son in fact was in an ongoing physical relationship with a steady girlfriend over the past two years. At the same time, an FBI agent said he found writings by Carini that explored the possibility of killing both himself and “a female named Jamie,” which was his girlfriend’s name, according to court records.
The charges against Carini stem from a bizarre incident in June, when the 23-year-old showed up at the hospital missing his left hand and several fingers on his right. He also had shrapnel wounds to the neck and throat, but claimed to have suffered his horrifying injuries in a gardening accident. Knowing that Carini had a previous conviction on his record for explosives, local cops called in the FBI to search the home Carini shared with his mother.
There, agents found a trail of blood leading to a second-floor bedroom. Inside, they found human skin and a chunk of flesh stuck to the ceiling, a box filled with rusty nails, a peanut butter jar containing at least two pounds of the volatile explosive triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, a “substance used in the creation of improvised explosive devices,” and ammonium nitrate, a form of which was used by Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168 and injuring nearly 700.
Although it was not made public at the time, an FBI agent later testified in court that investigators found handwritten bomb-making formulas and recipes—with Carini’s name on them—in his bedroom, as well as a modified pressure cooker containing two vials in Carini’s bedroom closet.
Carini’s mother said her son was an avid woodworker, and speculated that the nails found in his room could have been intended for a repair job in the neighborhood. The FBI immediately discounted this possibility.“[I]n the writings I observed—we observed that Mr. Carini had written about the  Boston Marathon bombing and how it would have been more effective,” FBI special agent Micah Childers testified in August. “If that pressure cooker that they used would have been at waist level, it would have been more effective against people.”
FBI investigators say they turned up more evidence behind Carini’s grandmother’s nearby house, including PVC pipes, pieces of loose wires, empty chemical containers, and a pit that appeared to have been the site of an explosion. Inside a storage shed on the property, they found coffee cups containing crystalline residue—which further tests confirmed was explosive material, according to the FBI—a battery with wires attached to it, and a partially legible letter on the ground.
“He casually walked through the shopping mall, his jacket concealed deadly objects,” the letter read. “He was doing it and was assured it must be done. Even if he died this statement was worth it! He had… tension that would come and go as he approached the stage of hot cheerleaders… A dead seriousness sank in as he realized he was truly passing the point of no return! He decided I will not back down I will not be afraid of the consequences no matter what I will be heroic I will make a statement like Elliott Rodgers [sic] did he thought to himself.”
Childers said in his August testimony that he had not yet “found a specific plan of action at this point,” wherein Carini had communicated with others about actually carrying out a real-life attack.
In a phone call shortly after her son’s June 4 arrest, Carini’s mother Karen told The Daily Beast, “It’s a situation where my son needs help, and I hope he gets the help he needs. Not to sound cliché, but I had no idea [about the bomb-making materials]. And I’m willing to work with him. My son needs help. That’s all I want to say.”
The Daily Beast tried multiple times to reach Karen Carini for comment after her son’s Friday guilty plea, but she was not available.
In a detention hearing over the summer, in which Carini was denied bail, she described the moment she realized what her son had done. It was about 7 p.m., and Karen, a retired schoolteacher, had just gotten home from a doctor's appointment.
“I was just getting ready to take a shower because I was afraid COVID was on me,” she testified. “So I put my gown on and went into the TV room to tell my other child that I was back home. And while I was in there, that is when Cole appeared in the entrance way and says, ‘Mom, I need help. I've had an accident.’”
Karen said she called 911, but the ambulance wasn’t getting there fast enough. So she hurriedly got dressed and took her son to the hospital.
“When we got there, he said… ‘Mom, I can't open the door,’” she said, according to court filings. “And that's when I knew something was wrong with his hands. I had never looked because I was about to vomit.”
The local hospital was not equipped to treat such severe injuries, so a helicopter flew Carini to Roanoke for a specialized five-and-a-half-hour surgery.
Later, when she cleaned up his bedroom, Carini’s mother says she found “three pieces of my son,” referring to parts of his hands.
“I think he's a different person now, you know, the shock of it, the injuries, the lifetime of living differently with one hand,” she said in court, adding that Carini, who his mom says was diagnosed with ADHD and autism in the fourth grade, gave “himself a life sentence with his maimed hands.”
Carini faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. His lawyer, federal defender John Thomas Stanford, did not respond to a request for comment.