Albuquerque, NM — Earlier this month, the Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico mysteriously shut down without warning and under a shroud of secrecy. The local police were not informed about the nature of the FBI investigation which caused conspiracy theories to abound.
Then, on Sunday, a statement from the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), the group who runs the observatory, suddenly released the reason for the investigation, noting that it was “criminal” and the site was closed over concerns for “the safety of local staff and residents.”
“AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety.”
The statement did not explain the “criminal activity” allegedly discovered at the observatory, or mention anything about arrests. It then acknowledged how the secrecy and “lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some.”
“However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take,” said the statement.
Apparently, the risk was so great that the local police were even kept out of the loop.
According to the Alamogordo Daily News, Benny House, the sheriff of Otero County, said the FBI was involved in what he described as an elaborate shutdown process and said “the FBI is refusing to tell us what’s going on.”
“There was a Blackhawk helicopter, a bunch of people around antennas and work crews on towers, but nobody would tell us anything,” House told the Daily News.
However, Wednesday afternoon, this great safety risk to the observatory was finally revealed and it was due to child pornography.
According to a federal search warrant, federal agents began searching a child protection database and found child porn linked to an IP address at the Sunspot observatory.
As KRQE reports:
In August, they began speaking to the chief observer at Sunspot, who said he found a laptop running in several empty offices over the last few months.
He told the feds what he found on the desktop was “not good,” and that it appeared to be child porn.
The search warrant states the feds then monitored all the IP addresses and found the exact time child porn was being sent out.
Because very few people have access to the observatory, the FBI was able to narrow down the one they thought was responsible: the janitor.
When the laptop was confiscated, according to the director, the janitor “feverishly started looking through the facility,” started making comments about “lax security at the facility,” said it was “only a matter of time before the facility got hit, and he “believed there was a serial killer in the area” and that killer might enter the facility and execute someone, according to KRQE.
At this point, the director became concerned for his personal safety and decided along with the FBI to shut down the facility, according to the warrant.
While the facility was shut down, according to warrant, FBI agents raided the suspects home and seized several items including a cell phone, laptops, SD cards and thumb drives.
Here is where this story gets even stranger. This grave security risk which caused the nation’s one-of-a-kind sun observatory telescope facility to shut down did not even end in an arrest. That’s right, the janitor who allegedly scared the director and the FBI into evacuating the facility and who was allegedly caught downloading child porn—has not been arrested.
What’s more, the warrant says nothing as to why the area post office was also evacuated.
The lack of arrest in this incident which was already swimming in conspiracy theories will likely cause even more controversy. If and when the alleged child porn suspect is arrested or named, the Free Thought Project will keep you updated.