HORSEHEADS – At a press conference held earlier this morning, New York State Police offered more insight into the investigation that led to the arrest of a Horseheads man over the weekend.
According to New York State Police Troop E Major Micklos Szoczei on November 6, a radio controlled improvised explosive device was found by a Town of Veteran employee and reported to police. The device was built in such a way as to be controlled from an approximate distance of six thousand feet. An investigation began including interviews with multiple witnesses and search warrants, which led to the identification of a suspect, 43 year old Michael P. Hilliard
On Saturday November 11, New York State Police who were conducting surveillance witnessed Hilliard leave his residence with several items and get into a small U-Haul van. Hilliard then drove north on State Route 13. As a precaution and with concern for public safety, police pulled him over in the Town of Newfield. Hilliard was taken into custody and interviewed. A search warrant was obtained, though nothing that could present a danger to the public was found in the U-Haul.
Law enforcement believe there was no target or threat to the public intended, and that the trip was more personal in nature.
A warrant was also obtained to search Hilliard’s residence at 207 South Main Street in Horseheads. There, police found bomb making equipment, blasting caps, explosive materials and what police described as several unknown chemicals. These chemicals were thought to be “unstable and volatile” if not kept in a temperature controlled environment. Due to this and the immediate threat to public safety, the surrounding streets were closed off and area residents evacuated from their homes. Due to the unknown composition of these chemicals, chemists from the FBI were called in from Quantico, Virginia and Huntsville, Alabama to advise on how to best dispose of the chemicals.
On Monday, law enforcement officials including the FBI were able to positively identify the explosive materials and began to take these explosive materials to a gravel pit in the Town of Erin where they could be detonated safely. Hazardous chemicals found on the scene were also removed.
Szoczei noted that these chemicals, when interacting with each other and in the presence of explosive devices “would have been catastrophic for the downtown area of Horseheads.”
According Chemung County Chief Assistant District Attorney Susan Rider-Ulacco, says the District Attorney’s office continues to investigate and is awaiting laboratory analysis results as well as reviewing digital data and interviewing witnesses.
Rider-Ulacco says Hilliard has been charged with 1st Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon with the presumption that the person possessing explosive materials intended to use them against the person or property of another. This charge carries a maximum of twenty five years in prison, with a minimum sentence of five years. Rider-Ulacco also said they the district attorney’s office is working with U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding further federal charges against Hilliard.
Major Szoczei took the time to thank the multiple area agencies that assisted New York State Police and FBI including the Village Of Horseheads, Village Police Department, Horseheads Village Fire Department. He also commended Edger Enterprise, T&R Environmental, Spectrum for their assistance with the investigation and remediation of the scene. Szoczei gave a special thanks to the citizens and nearby businesses of Horseheads for their patience and assistance with the investigation
He added that while the area surrounding the scene is now open to the public the investigation is ongoing. Law enforcement is working to put together a timeline of Hilliard’s activities. They also hope to learn more about his intent as well as where he would have obtained the materials found in his home.