'He was going to war with police'
A man who had lived just a few minutes away from the state police barracks in Loganville had been in his final planning stages of a massive attack in which he would have used homemade guns and bombs to kill as many state troopers as he could, authorities said in a news conference Wednesday.
“He was going to war with police,” said state police Capt. Adam Kosheba.
“Disgruntled” by court rulings against him, Howard Timothy Cofflin Jr., 56, most recently of Dundalk, Maryland, had been building improvised explosive devices from propane tanks and, piece by piece with parts bought online, an AR-15 rifle, according to police. He was aiming to use those to murder his ex-girlfriend and then all the state troopers who showed up to arrest him, police allege.
In a news conference Wednesday morning inside the Loganville state police barracks, which allegedly would have been a target of Cofflin's, several members of the York County District Attorney’s Office and the state police detailed what they say Cofflin had planned — and how the investigation to stop him worked.
The narrative police lay out about Cofflin starts on Aug. 14, 2015, when a "domestic argument" between Cofflin and his then-girlfriend of 20 years, Tina Snyder, led Snyder to seek and be granted a temporary protection-from-abuse order that day, forbidding Cofflin from having contact with her or coming near her. In the petition for the PFA, Snyder said he’d previously hit her, thrown hot water on her and threatened her in the Highland Road home they shared. On Aug. 27, the PFA was then extended to three years.
The PFA rulings enraged Cofflin, Kosheba said. On Sept. 2, Someone Cofflin knows told police he’d been texting her that he was going to “take care of” Snyder -- that he was “looking for a gun, but an ax would be faster,” according to charging documents filed Wednesday.
Police say he later told them he planned to cut off Snyder’s head and put it on a stick out on her front lawn to make a point to the York County government that “they need to change these policies,” referring to the PFA.
Terrorism: Among the long list of serious charges filed against him Wednesday after the full investigation, Cofflin faces two counts of terrorism. York County District Attorney Tom Kearney stressed Cofflin wasn’t affiliated with any particular ideology or larger cause; nonetheless, authorities said what Coffin was doing fit the definition of terrorism, as he allegedly was planning acts of violence with the intention of influencing policy and the justice system.
In September, Coffin was only charged with misdemeanor counts of making terroristic threats, according to authorities. In October, the lawyer he’d hired to represent him on these charges called state police, telling them Cofflin had mentioned to him such serious and immediate threats that he’d called the state Bar Ethics Hotline, and they’d told him he could waive attorney-client privilege and report what Cofflin had told him, Kosheba said.
So he did, telling police on Oct. 22 that Cofflin had said he’d acquired body armor and was building an assault rifle, and when he was done, he was planning on taking back by force the house he’d lived in with Snyder, documents state.
Troopers tracked him down and brought him in the next day for questioning, documents state. Kosheba and the charging documents say that at that one point in a recorded conversation he “freely” laid out to troopers more or less the highlights of his plan: he was going to build the gun, build the bombs, get explosives, kill police and Snyder.
“When I’m out I’m gonna buy a gun as easily as you can go to the corner store and buy milk,” he later told his mother in a recorded call from jail, documents state.
Weapons: The way he’d come by what was almost his weapon hadn’t been quite that easy, but it had been possible, according to authorities.
Thanks to a previous conviction, Cofflin wasn’t able to pass a background check to buy a gun, Kosheba said. So he’d drawn on both the Internet and his former training as a machinist to buy part after part online and put them together, the captain said.
He’d only needed another piece or two to finish it, said Kosheba, whose Troop H covers central Pennsylvania and includes what state police call the York barracks, which is in Loganville.
“(I’m) not an expert in weapons,” police said he told them, but “I am trying to make myself that now.”
He said he'd also bought a gas mask, body armor, night-vision goggles and more, according to police. He told police he’d been attempting to get tungsten bullets that he said could pierce riot shields and body armor, according to Kosheba.
And Cofflin had been working on what he himself had readily called IEDs — improvised explosive devices — made from propane tanks augmented by the binary explosive Tannerite, which he believed he’d be able to buy at a gun show, documents state. Police said he planned to put nails and bolts on the outside of the homemade bombs in an attempt to cause further damage with shrapnel.
Three of the eight propane tanks of various sizes sat immediately to Kosheba’s right as he spoke from behind the podium inside the Loganville barracks, flanked by the members of the DA’s office and other law enforcement personnel.
“He was moving forward with this murderous plot,” Kosheba said.
When police searched his phone, they found searches including “killing a state cop,” “killing with an ar 15” and “killing a state trooper,” documents state. Police say they also found bookmarks for topics including “plate armor on a budget” and “Murder-suicide: when killing yourself isn’t enough.”
He told state police he’d been tracking the troopers, and “knew their habits” and the state police barracks itself, Kosheba said.
“It’s a constant reminder we need to be vigilant,” the captain said.
What's next: Cofflin is currently in Baltimore County Detention Center; he was arrested and charged with firearm offenses after an Oct. 27 search of his mother’s home on Westfield Road in Dundalk, the residence where he’d most recently been living, documents state. Chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker said he’ll remain behind bars during the process to extradite him to York County.
In York County, he’s charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, two first-degree felony counts of terrorism and three of aggravated assault and one misdemeanor count each of making terroristic threats and threatening to use weapons of mass destruction.
In total, Barker said, doing the quick math behind the podium in the Loganville barracks’ patrol room, Cofflin could be looking at a sentence as long as 120 years behind bars.
— Reach Sean Cotter firstname.lastname@example.org.