Boston Police commander Robert Ciccolo knew something was going terribly wrong with his son Alexander at least a decade before 23-year-old was arrested by the FBI this month on charges connected to an ISIS-inspired plan to “emulate the Boston Marathon bombers” and “set off a bomb at a college campus” -- allegations linked to charges to which he pleaded not guilty today.
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In the spring of 2005, at age 13, Alexander Ciccolo was suspended and nearly expelled from a public school in Wareham after he was accused of striking another student and a teacher with drumsticks, according to probate records pertaining to his parents' divorce. Months later he was arrested by Wareham Police after he told a classmate “he was going to kill him,” and lunged at the student with a butterfly knife.
By then, Ciccolo had missed so many days of school the Wareham School Department filed what is known in Massachusetts as a CHINS – or Child In Need of Services – complaint to the Department of Social Services which opened an investigation into his mother, who had full custody.
The entire time his father, who was rising in the ranks of the Boston Police Department, desperately petitioned the court to let Alexander live with him, his new wife, and his stepchildren in Needham, an upscale Boston suburb, rather than with his ex-wife, Shelley Reardon, who refused, he claimed in court records, to have Alexander evaluated by mental health professionals.
“He [Robert] seeks this change because the child’s mother…who presently has primary physical custody of the child has in the past verbally agreed to allow the child to be evaluated but without exception has subsequently refused to allow such evaluations to proceed,” Ciccolo’s lawyer wrote in an emergency motion that petitioned a court to give him full custody of Alexander. “At present mother... has threatened legal action against father if initiates” psychological treatment.
The contentious divorce between Robert Ciccolo and Reardon, who split after 10 years of marriage when Alexander was five, are a glimpse into their only son’s long history of behavioral problems and mental illness that culminated with him coming “under the sway of ISIS,” as a young adult, prosecutors said at his first court appearance on July 14. He changed his name to Abu Ali al Amriki 18 months ago and opened a Facebook account where he posted a picture of a dead American soldier along with “Thank you Islamic State! Now we don’t have to deal with these kafir [non believer] back in America.”
Assistant United States Attorney Kevin O’Regan told a judge this month that Alexander Ciccolo adopted “in his young life an extremist form of Islam in which it called for acts of terror against people who didn’t believe as he did in this extremist form of Islam and, as a result of that, he developed a hatred for America.”
Ciccolo was arraigned today federal charges on assault and battery with a deadly weapon and felon in possession of a firearm charges connected to his July 4 arrest by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, one of nearly a dozen potential plots that FBI Director James Comey said were thwarted around Independence Day festivities and the Muslim Ramadan holiday.
The slightly-built defendant was escorted into court today wearing a tan prison jumpsuit, his hands cuffed to a chain around his waist and his ankles shackled. He wore black framed eyeglasses and a long beard on his chin. He smiled at his mother and stepfather, who sat behind the defendant’s table.
Ciccolo told the court he pleads not guilty to the charges contained in the indictment.
Also at the hearing, a federal judge ordered the government to hand over discovery to his attorney, which is not expected to be voluminous, prosecutors said. “It’s a pretty straightforward case,” O’Regan said today. Prosecutors have said Ciccolo planned to build a pressure cooker bomb filled with “nails and with ball bearings and broken glass” similar to the two that detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April 2013, killing three people – including an 8-year-old boy -- and injuring 260 others.
Ironically, Ciccolo’s father was working in Kenmore Square commanding officers providing security for the Red Sox crowd when the first blast was detonated just over a mile away and saw the plumes of smoke rise from the marathon finish line, according to an alumni publication run by Curry College.
And like the marathon bombers, Alexander Ciccolo allegedly did not plan to pull off a single attack. Investigators said he was building 10 firebombs using Styrofoam soaked in motor oil because the concoction “would stick to the victims’ skin and make it harder to put out.” He also allegedly made plans to bomb a university cafeteria and bragged to a cooperating witness that he would execute students live on the Internet in ISIS-inspired barbarism.
“He dedicated himself to killing as many innocent people in the United States as he could,” O’Regan said at Ciccolo’s detention hearing, which came more a week after he purchased two powerful rifles and two handguns from a FBI cooperating witness on the Fourth of July. He slung the duffle bags full of guns over his shoulder and was arrested as he walked into his Adams apartment in the Berkshires.
That arrest spawned the execution of a search warrant, which led to the discovery of the firebombs, authorities said. The FBI cooperating witness wore a wire for the FBI, federal officials told ABC News, and many of his plans were captured in audio recordings.
Still, officials said, Ciccolo was unlikely to be able to pull off any attack.
He had been under constant surveillance since September 11, 2014 when, several law enforcement officials said, he sent “alarming text messages” to his father, who had become a police captain in the Operations Division of the Boston Police. In one text message he told his father that America is “Satan.” Others stated that his Islamic faith “is under attack” and that he was “not afraid to die for the cause!”
The police captain contacted the FBI saying that his son had become “obsessed with Islam” 18 months earlier. Capt. Ciccolo has cooperated with investigators assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force since, senior BPD commanders told ABC News.
Reardon’s home in Ware, a rural part of the Berkshires, was also searched by the FBI after Alexander was arrested, her son’s attorney confirmed today.
The department has quietly lauded Ciccolo’s painful decision to turn in his own son and BPD spokesman Lt. Mike McCarthy told ABC News, “We continue to support Captain Ciccolo during this difficult time.”
That difficult time, according to court records, was an extensive one when it came to Alexander. Court records detail bitterness between his parents that went as far as to ask the family court to issue rulings over their son’s toys. When Alexander was 6, the court issued a restraining order to dictate the times each parent could pick him up at school “as to avoid a mother/father confrontation over custody.”
In 1998 the court granted Alexander’s mother custody and he spent a large swath of his childhood in Wareham, part of Cape Cod. That is until his childhood behavioral problems escalated into alleged violent attacks and arrests, the court record states.
In May 2006, after the knife incident, the court granted Robert Ciccolo emergency custody of Alexander and the teen moved to Needham with his father and stepmother Dale. A month later, on his 14th birthday, Alexander was hospitalized after “an outburst of violent property damage,” that led to a 911 call. During that hospitalization, a doctor suggested that Alexander visit his mother, who had limited contact with after moving in with his father seven months earlier.
According to court records, his father claimed that visit was a turning point for Alexander’s mental health. The elder Ciccolo filed an affidavit to limit his ex-wife’s role in Alexander’s life, pointing out that his mother returned BB guns that had been taken away from their son because of the weapons charges.
“She also bought him a new one with a laser pointer, telescopic sights and a flashlight attachment,” according to a court statement the Boston police commander gave to the court.
Reardon responded by saying her ex-husband “ruled with an iron fist” and his tactics led their son to threaten to run away. As far as the BB guns, she told the court, many of the boys in their town used them, writing in her own affidavit, “perhaps my former husband has lived near the city too long and has forgotten what many boys do for fun.”
She also accused her ex-husband of using his role as a police officer to manipulate the courts saying she was not notified about the emergency court hearing held on May 31, 2006 where she lost custody of her son. After she lost custody, she accused Alexander’s father of threatening to not allow her to see him if he “did not have good behavior.”
“This is hardly good parenting and would seem more draconian than needed in the circumstances,” Reardon’s attorney wrote.
Capt. Ciccolo was not in court today and his son’s attorney David J. Hoose refused comment when asked if Alexander had spoken with his father. Ciccolo did not attend the July 14th detention hearing for son but has been in contact with Hoose, the attorney said.
At that detention hearing prosecutors played a nine-minute video was played where the younger Ciccolo defended his beliefs to two FBI agents, telling them ISIS “will only kill people who fight them.”
His mother attended the detention that hearing and today’s arraignment. Today she smiled and nodded at her son who turned to her as he was led out of the courtroom and said, “I love you mom. Thank you for supporting me.”
Hoose said that his client "has always been very close to his mother," and remains so today. He declined to comment on his client's mental health and whether that would play a role in his defense.
Prosecutors argued earlier this month that Ciccolo was unrepentant and should be held without bail. A federal judge agreed and Ciccolo was held again today without arguing for bail.
"So we have a defendant who came under the sway of ISIS, adopted a hatred for America, adopted the most vile beliefs, began to act on them, was arrested and continued,” O’Regan said at the detention hearing. “It wasn’t as if he said ‘oh, they got me, gee, maybe I made a mistake.' It was 'No, I’m here and this is what I believe.'"
After that interview Ciccolo was taken to a holding facility where a female nurse medically evaluated him. Prosecutors said that during the exam, Ciccolo picked up a pen and slammed it into the nurse’s head so hard “the pen actually broke in half.”
After his son’s arrest Cap. Ciccolo’s issued a release on behalf of his family saying, “While we were saddened and disappointed to learn of our son’s intentions, we are grateful that authorities were able to prevent any loss of life or harm to others.”
Michele McPhee is a Boston-based freelance journalist and frequent contributor to ABC News.