BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Hardly a month goes by without a mass shooting or violent attack in a public space somewhere in the United States.
It happened in Jacksonville, Fla., last year when shots rang out at a video game event.
At a Pittsburgh synagogue when 11 victims were murdered.
And at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., when 17 students were gunned down.
Last year, the U.S. Secret Service counted 27 “mass attacks in public spaces” in the U.S.
While none of the attacks occurred in New York State, the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team has learned federal agents have encountered what they consider serious threats right here in Western New York.
A recent trial in federal court gives rare insight into the phenomenon of homegrown extremism -- and it involves much more than school shootings.
Wednesday, a jury found Carlos Bayon of Grand Island guilty of threatening two Republican members of Congress last year: Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state.
From his Grand Island apartment, Bayon called both elected officials, leaving messages that said, “This message is for you and the people that sent you there. You are taking ours, we are taking yours. Anytime, anywhere. We know where they are. We are not going to feed them sandwiches, we are going to feed them lead. Make no mistake you will pay.”
He then said, “ojo por ojo, diente por diente,” which is Spanish for, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
In a court document filed by the government, the 63-year-old native of Puerto Rico explained that he was reacting to the images of Hispanic children locked in cages last year along the southern border with Mexico. He said the images brought back memories of his own abuse when he was a child. Bayon represented himself in court, but Patrick J. Brown, the lawyer who assisted him, said Bayon declined to comment for this story.
None of this surprises Dr. Steven M. MacMartin, director of the Homeland Security program at Medaille College.
“There's no particular area in the United States prone to growing...domestic terrorists,” said MacMartin, a retired federal agent. “This can happen anywhere. But (it’s) scary to think how many more of these people are out there.”
Last year, agents from the U.S. Capitol Police and the Buffalo office of the FBI raided Bayon’s apartment on Grand Island, finding 200 rounds of ammunition.
The agents also found books with the following titles:
Silent but Deadly: homemade silencers
Middle Eastern Terrorist Bomb Designs
CIA field manual for explosives prep
How to Circumvent a Security Alarm in 10 Seconds or Less
Twice, police searched Bayon’s storage unit at a self-storage facility on Niagara Falls Boulevard, where just over a month ago, they found a “high-powered assault rifle” and “fuel...to make homemade explosives,” according to court documents.
The government sought to portray Bayon as an extremist, stating in court documents that his ex-girlfriend told police he “admired Timothy McVeigh for bombing the federal building in Oklahoma, sympathized with David Koresh for his anti-government views, and took an unusual interest in the Columbine mass shooting.”
“You need to find someone that echoes those beliefs,” MacMartin said of extremists. “And when you begin to reinforce each other, and you funnel down to a very specific and core group of persons, that's when people start to become very dangerous.”
Perhaps the most likely way most Americans would come in contact with extremism is through a school shooting.
That's why authorities in Chautauqua County have developed an innovative new plan that may have stopped a school shooting before the student was able to act.
The School Threat Assessment and Response (STAR) team was organized last year with the help of Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick E. Swanson after a student at a nearby high school made suspicious comments about school shootings.
Swanson declined to identify the high school, but said, “They needed assistance with dealing with a legitimate threat made by a student.”
The student’s comments had not risen to a level of criminality, he said, but school officials were concerned and there was no formal group in place to deal with the situation.
A team of 20 School administrators, teachers, counselors, mental health professionals, sheriff’s deputies, state police and an FBI agent gathered to assess the risk, and quietly, the group took action to provide “buffers to violence” and referred the student to mental health services.
“Today,” the group’s report states, “this student is doing well and no longer deemed to pose a threat of violence.”
Swanson said unless something criminal occurs, their goal is not to make an arrest.
“The goal is to help these kids while preventing any violence that could come from not helping them,” he said.
According to a new report from the Secret Service, almost all of the alleged criminals in last year’s mass attacks “had at least one significant stressor” in their lives, and often, those around them noticed concerning behavior.
Since the first incident in 2018, the STAR team in Chautauqua County has sprung into action six times, Swanson said. Members advise parents, teachers and other students to take note of any warning signs as soon as they see them and to report them to school administrators.
“One thing individually might not seem like a big deal, but you start to collect those incidences or those acting out moments where they say something that's a little off, that maybe you look at them as a whole and you're like, ‘Well, maybe we can intervene here and help the student some more,’” Swanson said.