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Police: Guns, bombs at center of plot against troopers

Written by Ted Czeck/York Daily Record | Jan 7, 2016 4:57 AM
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A board featuring photos of items found during the arrest of Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr. is on display during a press conference held by state police. Ted Czech, York Daily Record

Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr. allegedly plotted to kill his girlfriend and blow up the state police barracks.

(Undated) -- A man who police say plotted to kill his ex-girlfriend and "go to war" with state police by blowing up their barracks, faces multiple charges including attempted murder, terrorism and threat to use weapons of mass destruction.

Pennsylvania State Police charged Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr., 56, formerly of Loganville, on Wednesday. More recently, he had been living in Dundalk, Md., with his mother.

"He could have leveled at least a portion of this building and killed several people," Pennsylvania State Police Capt. Adam Kosheba said in a news conference Wednesday at the barracks in Loganville. "He had one part left to build his AR-15 (rifle)."

Police displayed propane tanks they believed Cofflin planned to use for explosive devices.

He faces charges of criminal attempted murder in the first degree, criminal attempted murder of a law enforcement officer in the first degree, terrorism, threat to use weapons of mass destruction, aggravated assault and terroristic threats.

Cofflin is being held in Maryland. The extradition process will begin soon, York County Prosecutor Tim Barker said.

The charges stem from statements made by Cofflin regarding his desire to kill his ex-girlfriend, state troopers and county judges. Police also say Cofflin purchased parts to fabricate the AR-15, supplies to build improvised explosive devices, and body armor and ammunition.

"This is one individual with one goal and one agenda," Barker said in response to the charges, particularly in relation to the terrorism charge.

Barker credited Cofflin's defense attorney, who he did not name, for coming forward about his client's plans as a "huge factor" in those plans being thwarted. According to court documents, the attorney felt it was his "duty to disclose an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.

"On October 6, 2015, Mr. Cofflin communicated to me that he is in the planning and operational stages of taking back possession of his house," the attorney wrote in a statement to state police. "He further communicated to me that he had acquired ballistic body armor and assault rifles ... Mr. Cofflin said that as soon as the parts were machined he was going to take action."

The attorney was granted permission from the Pennsylvania Bar Association to breach Cofflin's attorney-client confidentiality privilege because of "a legitimate officer and public safety concern," documents state.

York attorney Seamus Dubbs is listed as representing Cofflin in the September case. He declined to comment Wednesday, citing attorney-client confidentiality, and said he would not be representing Cofflin in the latest case.

Investigation begins

After hearing from Cofflin's attorney, police found that in August, Cofflin was served with a temporary protection from abuse order after he had a dispute with live-in girlfriend Tina Marie Snyder.

Cofflin and Snyder, who had been together for more than 20 years, had argued over their home, which had flooded from a broken pipe, and how the issue was handled. The order barred Cofflin from his home and contact with Snyder.

Still, in early September, Cofflin was charged with terroristic threats after he allegedly texted an acquaintance and wrote that he planned to buy an ax and that he was having nightmares about killing Snyder and "cutting her head off."

On Oct. 23, the day after Cofflin's attorney provided his statement to police, Baltimore County Police searched Cofflin's mother's home -- at the behest of Pennsylvania State Police -- and his vehicle, which was parked outside the residence.

A neighbor shared this video of police visiting Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr.'s Dundalk, Maryland home in October where he lived with his mother. Cofflin is accused of planning to kill his ex-girlfriend and blow up police barracks. submitted

Inside the vehicle, officers found plans and parts to build an AR-15-style assault rifle, six 30-round AR-15 magazines, heavy-duty body armor and other ammunition.

In addition, officers found hand-written notes describing Pennsylvania State Police's Loganville barracks location and other details about the station.

Officers arrested Cofflin at his mother's home for illegally possessing firearms and ammunition. Baltimore County Police Cpl. Larry Gick said at the news conference that crimes committed in Maryland by Cofflin in 1978 -- hindering an investigation; 1994 -- telephone abuse; and 1995 -- resisting arrest, obstruction of justice and destruction of property, prevented him from owning a gun or bullets.

Cofflin interviewed in custody

State police spoke with Cofflin at a Baltimore County Police precinct, during which he talked about his plot to behead Snyder and kill any police who tried to arrest him, documents state.

He said Snyder's death would serve to teach the "tyrannical" York County government a lesson that "they need to change these policies."

Cofflin said his anger was directed toward police who "ambushed me at my house," documents state. If police tried to come inside his home, Cofflin said that he would set off a bomb that he planned to construct.

"This is a war and they've attacked me so I'm gonna attack them," he said.

Cofflin also said that he had conducted surveillance on state police's barracks in Loganville, located nearby his home, stating, "I already staked out their headquarters. I already know where they fuel their cars."

The York County Court of Common Pleas was also a target, as he said that during his last court appearance, he had surveyed where judges park their vehicles.

Cofflin said that if he "wanted to get a judge I would just wait for him there," documents state.

Also during the interview, Cofflin said he was in the "gather the supplies and equipment stage" with the intent of purchasing the pieces of a semi-automatic rifle, putting it together and then converting it to a fully-automatic weapon.

He added that the parts needed to construct the gun, along with the propane tanks, were at his Loganville home.

Using a search warrant for Cofflin's iPhone, police found that in late September, he had searched the Internet on topics such as "How to kill a state trooper" and "How to build an incendiary bomb more powerful than napalm," documents state.

On Oct. 27, police searched Cofflin's Loganville home, finding small and large propane gas tanks and two police scanners.

Neighbors surprised by charges

Joseph Allulis, a next-door neighbor to the Loganville home, said he was surprised by the charges. "I find it really hard to believe he's involved in some terroristic plot." .

Cofflin looked out for his neighbors, Allulis said. Cofflin cut Allulis' grass when he was in the hospital. Cofflin would clear the snow for his neighbors, too. "He was a caring individual as far as I'm concerned."

He recalled the dispute Cofflin and his ex-girlfriend had in the fall after a pipe had burst in the house, and it did some damage.

He said he usually receives a Christmas card signed by Cofflin, Snyder and a daughter. This year he received one with only Snyder's name on it.

Other neighbors interviewed in the Parkview West neighborhood said they did not know Cofflin.

In his mother's Dundalk, Md., neighborhood of brick multi-unit dwellings, neighbors interviewed Wednesday said they had not heard about him until his arrest last fall.

"It was a shock," William Storms said.

Karen Powell, another neighbor, said she rarely saw people at the residence. "You never even see anybody move around in there," Powell said.

Serving justice without fear

Barker, speaking at the news conference, said the penalty for the charges against Cofflin, if he is convicted, could range anywhere from 50 to 100 years. He added that when he and fellow prosecutor David Sunday became involved in the case, fear of retaliation never entered their minds.

"The day you make decisions ... based on fear is the day you no longer serve justice," he said.

Staff writers Teresa Boeckel, Brett Sholtis and Gordon Rago contributed to this report

Read the affidavit below.

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