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Terror suspect pleads guilty to plotting attack at Ohio bar

Police handcuff suspect. (MaxPixel/Released)
August 10, 2019

A South Toledo man who went along with his girlfriend’s plotted plan to conduct a violent attack at a Toledo bar pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges.

Vincent Armstrong, 23, of the 3600 block of Willow Run Drive, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Toledo to a sole count of conspiracy to transport or receive an explosive with intent to kill, injure, or intimidate any individual, and maliciously damage or destroy by fire or explosive for his role in planning an attack referred to as “D-day,” at a second-floor Toledo bar, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Freeman.

Armstrong faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

The plea comes the same week as a mass shooting outside of a Dayton bar, though Mr. Freeman said Armstrong’s plea was planned before the Dayton incident.

Armstrong entered Magistrate Judge James Knepp II’s courtroom Thursday with his head held high, wearing a slight grin. He waved to his family members who were seated in the back row of the courtroom. Magistrate Judge Knepp went through a series of standard questions with Armstrong before hearing the statement of facts, including if Armstrong had previously been treated for mental health or sought treatment from a counselor — to which Armstrong replied, “no.”

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While Magistrate Judge Knepp will recommend the finding of guilty to the judge overseeing the case, Judge James Carr will have to accept the recommendation and sentence Armstrong at a later date.

Through a plea agreement, federal prosecutors and defense attorney Adam Nightingale agreed to recommend a prison term within the sentencing guideline range — which is determined following a pre-sentence investigation. However, a judge may deviate from that recommendation and sentence Armstrong to a term between 5 and 20 years.

Armstrong and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Lecron — whom he met in February, 2018 — planned the attack from approximately April, 2018, to Dec. 10, 2018, when they were arrested, prosecutors said.

Ms. Lecron was more of the ringleader of the foiled attack, as she expressed interest in mass murderers and introduced Armstrong to the True Crime Community — which shows interest in criminology surrounding serial killers and mass murders across various social media platforms, Mr. Freeman said.

Ms. Lecron routinely posted items about Columbine High School shooters and about a shooter from a Charleston church, referring to the gunman as “godlike.” Armstrong also posted in the True Crime Community that he wanted to “contribute to the chaos,” according to the federal prosecutor.

Ms. Lecron is also accused of showing her boyfriend a website which described how to make an improvised bomb and, on June 3, 2018, Armstrong purchased end caps and a drill.

The couple each wrote journal entries about “D-day,” the federal prosecutor said.

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As Mr. Freeman spoke about the facts in court on Thursday, Armstrong’s sister left the courtroom, visibly upset. She soon returned.

Throughout the investigation, undercover FBI agents and confidential sources communicated with Ms. Lecron, who indicated the couple devised a plan to commit an “upscale mass murder” at a Toledo bar — specifically being on the second floor, making it more difficult to escape. During the attack, they planned on using guns and explosives to kill, injure, and intimidate people, Mr. Freeman said.

Additionally, Armstrong planned to wear a trench coat and a T-shirt that read, “Society failed us,” during the “D-day” attack.

“Ms. Lecron purchased combat boots that she felt would not slip on all the blood during the attack and a T-shirt that read, ‘False Prophet,’” Mr. Freeman said. “Their attire was to emulate the Columbine High School shooters.”

Ms. Lecron allegedly purchased two pounds of Hodgdon Triple Seven Muzzleloading Propellant and also 665 screws of various sizes — some as long as three inches, officials reported.

During a December search of the home, law enforcement found a duffel bag in Armstrong’s vehicle containing a tactical vest with two loaded magazines for an AK-47, two loaded magazines for a pistol, a gas mask, and printouts of how to construct various bombs.

The couple were indicted by a federal grand jury Feb. 3 with conspiracy to transport or receive an explosive with intent to kill, injure, or intimidate and maliciously damage or destroy by fire or explosion; conspiracy to use a destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence; and conspiracy to use firearms during and in relation to a crime of violence.

Armstrong was also charged with making false statements — claiming the couple was only “role playing” or “fantasizing,” the attack, while Ms. Lecron is charged with transporting explosives in interstate commerce, Mr. Freeman said.

“Are you telling me that’s what you did?” Magistrate Judge Knepp asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Armstrong replied.

Judge James Carr previously granted a charge of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence — which requires an underlying crime of violence — be dismissed. The additional charges against Armstrong will be dismissed at sentencing.

An unnamed tipster contacted Toledo police and told officers that Armstrong expressed a desire to commit a violent attack and had firearms and the makings of a pipe bomb. That message was referred to the FBI, which began the investigation.

In an unrelated case, Damon Joseph of Holland was arrested Dec. 7 and indicted in federal court in January. Mr. Joseph, also known as Abdullah Ali Yusuf, is accused of attempting to provide material to support ISIS, attempting to commit a hate crime, and possessing firearms in furtherance of a crime of violence stemming from his plan to attack at least one Toledo synagogue.

His case is also pending in federal court.

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© 2019 The Blade