On the day a Florida gunman with an AR-15 murdered 17 at a Broward County high school, New York cops and federal agents were interviewing a student at an Upper Manhattan high school who said a teacher had paid her and a classmate $50 an hour to empty black powder from fireworks.
The horror in Florida was all too familiar. A troubled teen had arrived at a school with an assault rifle and proceeded to shoot everybody he could.
The case in New York was something new: a teacher allegedly enlisting students to help him and his twin brother amass the makings of a bomb, complete with deadly shrapnel.
Yet both cases seem just variations on a dark nihilism that is at the core of all terrorism in its many forms. Foreign and domestic. Individual and group. Fiery or icy. Purportedly religious or political. Or just nakedly sociopathic.
The Florida gunman is said to have been a member of a white supremacist group, but when it came down to it he killed whoever he could. The Bronx teacher and his twin do not seem to be bent on jihad, yet they were allegedly enlisting school kids in preparing a bomb such as was detonated in the name of Allah at the Boston Marathon.
We seem surrounded by evil at every turn. And the only real protection from it is a six-word saying that might have prevented the Florida school shooting and apparently did head off whatever the New York teacher and his twin intended.
“If you see something, say something.”
The New York investigation began back on Dec. 4 of last year, when someone called a bomb threat into the Upper Manhattan high school, which investigators presently prefer not to name.
The NYPD’s Intelligence Division investigated and identified a 15-year-old female student as the prime suspect. She told the investigators that she had done it at the suggestion of a 27-year-old teacher named Christian Toro after she had complained that she was bored.
“If you’re bored with school, call in a bomb scare,” the teacher had allegedly told her in essence.
Shortly after the student was arrested for making the threat, the teacher abruptly resigned. He had been issued a laptop, and his twin brother, Tyler Toro, delivered it back to the school two days later.
The See Something came when a school technician came upon a downloaded book in the computer that detailed how to make explosives.
The technician then Said Something.
On Feb. 8, New York cops and federal agents interviewed Christian Toro— who was out on bail—at the Bronx apartment he shares with his twin. He told the investigators that he had unintentionally downloaded the explosives book after coming across it while researching the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
“Christian Toro stated that he had never built a bomb and had only looked at the explosives book’s table of contents,” the subsequent federal complaint reads.
In the meantime, the student charged with calling in the bomb threat also told investigators that she had been having sex with Christian Toro in the apartment beginning in October. He was arrested on Jan. 31 and charged with statutory rape.
Investigators were at the Upper Manhattan school on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day—the day of the school shooting in Florida—interviewing students in connection with the statutory rape case. A friend of the accuser told the investigators that she had also been at the teacher’s apartment. She added that the teacher had paid her and her friend to empty the black powder from fireworks.
The investigators returned to the first girl, who allegedly said she ”forgot” to tell them about emptying fireworks. The next step was for the investigators to secure a search warrant.
By then, news had broken of the mass murder down in Florida. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel addressed the press in the aftermath. He had seen the gunman’s “very disturbing” postings over the months prior to the carnage and had to wonder if 17 innocents might still be alive if somebody who had come upon the words and images before the shooting had called police.
“If you see something, say something,” he pleaded.
Thanks to somebody having said something, investigators in New York were at that very time securing a search warrant for the Toro twins' apartment in the Bronx.
At 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, the investigators executed the warrant. They continued searching through the day. They discovered a box on the floor of the bedroom closet containing a glass jar of black powder, 20 pounds of iron oxide, five pounds of aluminum powder, five pounds of potassium nitrate, and two pounds of confectioners sugar. A small container held iron oxide and aluminum powder that had been mixed into thermite, which the complaint describes as “an explosive material that can create heat and high temperatures.”
The investigators further found firecrackers and a bag of what the complaint describes as “metal spheres.”
“Items such as the metal sphere can be used as fragmentation which, when combined with the powder, can be released as projectiles, causing damage during an explosion,” the complaint notes.
On the kitchen table, the investors spied a handwritten diary with a notation on the front saying that if it were lost, it should be returned to Tyler Toro. Among the handwritten entries detailed in the complaint were:
WHEN YOU FIND OUT I THREW AWAY ALL EVIDENCE [OF OPERATION CODENAME ‘FLASH’] I COULD FIND IN YOUR ROOM, I HOPE THIS DOESN'T TURN INTO A SCENE FROM GOODFELLAS.”
“WE ARE TWIN TOROS STRIKE US NOW, WE WILL RETURN WITH NANO THERMITE.”
“IF YOU’RE REGISTERED AS A SEX OFFENDER, THINGS WILL BE DIFFICULT, BUT I AM HERE 100%, LIVING, BUYING WEAPONS. WHATEVER WE NEED.”
In the living room, the investigators came upon a yellow backpack that contained a purple index card with a handwritten note.
“UNDER THE FULL MOON THE SMALL ONES WILL KNOW TERROR.”
The combination of that note, along with the makings of a Boston Marathon-type bomb, along with the thermite and the metal spheres, was enough to worry the investigators, even if they remained uncertain about what the twins intended.
Seeing something and saying something had now led to wondering what exactly the twins might have been pondering.
“I have no idea,” an investigator told The Daily Beast.
But there seemed no doubt that the twins had enlisted underage minors to assist in amassing the makings of a bomb. They were arrested and arraigned in Manhattan federal court on Thursday evening. Both twins were charged with unlawfully manufacturing a destructive device. Christian Toro was also charged with of distribution of explosive materials to a minor.
The complaint was a public document, and the investigators understood that the mention of explosives and a school might combine with the shock of the Florida shootings to trigger a media frenzy. The NYPD and the FBI and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office joined in what might be considered a controlled media detonation intended to head off a much larger eruption.
At an 8 p.m. press conference, the investigators offered scant details, in part because they themselves were still trying to figure out the case. But they were able to state with certainty that any threat had passed. And they were able to say this due to the one protection we have in this time of a dark nihilism that takes many forms but is still just evil best beaten when recognized before it strikes.
“If you see something, say something," NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said.