Metro-East News

Teen allegedly threatens mass casualty event, faces terrorism charges

The terrorism threat against multiple Madison County targets was real, according to Madison County officials who announced felony charges against an 18-year-old Godfrey teenager.

Keaun L. Cook has been charged with one count of material support for terrorism and one count of making a terrorist threat, both are class X felonies.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons and Madison County Sheriff John Lakin announced the charges during a press conference Thursday afternoon at the sheriff’s office in Edwardsville. Specifically, Gibbons said, Cook expressed his intention that a mass casualty event would occur at multiple locations in Madison County.

“This is a circumstance where there was no room for error and no room for delay,” Gibbons said. “We as a community owe a great debt to the person who reported this.”

Gibbons said that the threat was verbal, but that Cook had been in communication with a terrorist organization via multiple electronic means. He would not go into further specifics and would not name the organization to which Cook had been linked.

Lakin said they first became aware of the threat on Aug. 24 after deputies from his department were dispatched to Cook’s home in Godfrey for a welfare check. In meeting with Cook and his family members, deputies developed evidence linking Cook to possible regional terrorist threats.

Preliminary investigation confirms that Cook has been in contact with individuals he believed would be capable of committing a mass casualty terrorist attack. Federal authorities were brought in to assist in the investigation.

“Thanks to the individual who immediately alerted authorities of the actions of this man, and the serious response executed by the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, a potentially chaotic and deadly event in the area has been prevented,” Gibbons said. “My staff is working closely in coordination with the Sheriff’s Office, local law enforcement, and federal authorities to ensure that there is no further risk to the public.”

Gibbons said all the venues included in the threat had been notified so that they could take the necessary security precautions, but would not say which venues had been threatened.

Gibbons and Lakin said that there was “no credible evidence” that there were any other operatives in the area and that the organization with which Cook allegedly communicated was not local. “Because (Cook) is behind bars, we believe the community is safe,” Gibbons said.

Lakin said no materials were recovered from Cook’s evidence to indicate the making of an explosive device or similar weapons. While he and Gibbons reiterated that they could not give out specific information, they both said they believed the threat was genuine. Lakin said this was not a case of a bomb threat called in by a teenager - a common occurrence at area schools, especially around finals, he said.

“We stopped an incident that could have caused a serious situation,” Lakin said. He referred to the threat as “stalled,’ and said the investigation was ongoing. “This was not something that was created overnight and it’s not going to be stopped in a flash,” he said.

Gibbons agreed. “Had this situation not been stopped, this press conference would have been held in a wholly different situation,” he said.

Cook remains in custody at the Madison County Jail. His bond was set at $150,000, though Gibbons said that was an issue that he intended to revisit. Cook has no previous felony convictions in Madison County and no charges at all in St. Clair County or Missouri, according to court records. He has one conviction for misdemeanor damage to property; in 2011, he used a rock to scratch a pickup truck. He pleaded not guilty, but was convicted and ordered to pay restitution to the truck’s owner.

He faces 30 to 40 years in prison on each count. There has not been an attorney assigned to his case yet; the attorney who represented him on his prior misdemeanor case died in 2015.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald