The Real Reason Behind That Mysterious Observatory Closure In New Mexico

Associated Press/Dylan Taylor-Lehman/Alamogordo Daily News

Mystery solved.

Authorities say it wasn’t aliens, but a janitor’s unsavory tastes that ultimately led to the closure of an observatory in southern New Mexico. The FBI shut down the Sunspot Observatory when that same janitor made veiled threats against the facility after federal agents seized a laptop he used to access child pornography.

The closure on Sept. 6 sparked international attention since authorities refused to release any details, while news outlets and conspiracy theorists filled in the blanks with rumors of geomagnetic storms, alien sightings and apocalyptic asteroids.

According to a search warrant filed in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces, the FBI began investigating after a wireless signal at the observatory, located on Sacramento Peak in the Lincoln National Forest, accessed child porn multiple times since January.

During an interview on Aug. 21, the facility’s chief observer told agents he had found a running laptop with child porn on it in an empty office several months before.

Agents say the chief observer believed the laptop belonged to a research student and didn’t report it at the time because he was “distracted by an urgent matter within the facility.”

The chief observer told agents that only one person had access to the facility around the time of the child porn being accessed: a janitor who started working at the facility a year ago and cleans for a couple of hours a day. The janitor’s parents own the janitorial contract for the observatory.

Agents say the janitor has a key and “unlimited access” to the building.

According to the search warrant, agents seized the laptop.

Agents say that when the janitor returned the next morning, unaware of the seizure, he claimed to be “missing some cleaning supplies” and asked if anyone had been in the office.

The chief observer told agents the janitor began complaining about “lax security” at the facility and claimed someone was breaking into the facility at night to steal internet service and toilet paper.

As time went on, agents say the janitor’s actions grew increasingly “frantic” and he continually approached the chief observer with questions and comments about missing items.

“(The janitor) had continued to look feverishly through the facility and continued to make comments about the lax security,” an agent wrote in the search warrant.

Agents say the janitor mentioned that decoy security cameras “were a joke” and it was only “a matter of time” until the facility “got hit.”

The FBI decided to shut down the facility after the chief observer became concerned for his personal safety when the janitor said there was a serial killer in the area and was fearful that the killer might “enter the facility and execute someone.”

While authorities maintain their silence, the observatory reopened Monday.

“Sunspot is now open, and we’re ready to show you all the great science and public outreach we do at this fantastic facility!” says a statement on the facility’s website.


©2018 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs paid $13,000 over a three-month period for a senior official's biweekly commute to Washington from his home in California, according to expense reports obtained by ProPublica.

Read More Show Less
Saturday Night Live/screenshot

President Donald Trump said that "retribution" should be "looked into" after this week's opening skit of Saturday Night Live featured Alec Baldwin being mean to him again.

Read More Show Less
Staff Sgt. John Eller conducts pre-flights check on his C-17 Globemaster III Jan. 3 prior to taking off from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii for a local area training mission. Sgt. Eller is a loadmaster from the 535th Airlift Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

CUCUTA, Colombia — The Trump administration ratcheted up pressure Saturday on beleaguered Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, dispatching U.S. military planes filled with humanitarian aid to this city on the Venezuelan border.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan speaks at the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (Reuters) - Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Saturday he had not yet determined whether a border wall with Mexico was a military necessity or how much Pentagon money would be used.

President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border without congressional approval.

Read More Show Less
A pair of U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat aircraft from Fighter Squadron VF-211 Fighting Checkmates in flight over Iraq in 2003/Department of Defense

Since the sequel to the 1986 action flick (and wildly successful Navy recruitment tool) Top Gun, was announced, there's been a lot of speculation on what Top Gun: Maverick will be about when it premieres in June 2020. While the plot is still relatively unclear, we know Tom Cruise will reprise his role as Naval aviator Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, and he'll be joined by a recognizable costar: The iconic F-14 Tomcat.

It looks like the old war plane will be coming out of retirement for more than just a cameo. A number of recently surfaced photos show an F-14 Tomcat aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, alongside Cruise and members of the film's production crew, the Drive's Tyler Rogoway first reported earlier this week.

Read More Show Less