News

Police: Teen Charged After Gaining Access To Top Of WTC

UPDATED 03/21/14 12:19 a.m.

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A 16-year-old boy bypassed security in the middle of the night and climbed a ladder to the spire of 1 World Trade Center where he apparently took pictures, authorities said Thursday.

As CBS 2’s Sonia Rincon reported, Justin Casquejo of Weehawken, N.J. did not just get past the security and construction all around the new World Trade Center building. He got into an elevator and then climbed the stairs nearly another 20 flights to the spire.

He was arrested at 6 a.m. Sunday and charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass.

According to the complaint, Casquejo was quoted as telling police: “I walked around the construction site and figured out how to access the Freedom Tower rooftop. I found a way up through the scaffolding, climbed onto the 6th floor, and took the elevator up to the 88th floor. I then took the staircase up to 104th floor. I went to the rooftop and climbed the ladder all the way to the antenna.”

He was arrested on the premises and his camera and cellphone were seized after authorities obtained a search warrant, said Joe Pentagelo, a spokesman for the Port Authority.

Pentagelo said Casquejo got onto the construction site of the nearly completed tower through a 1-foot opening in a fence. He eluded a security guard on the 104th floor; the guard has since been fired, the spokesman said.

According to court papers, Casquejo was released without bail after being arraigned shortly after midnight Monday on one count of criminal trespass in the third degree and one count of trespass.

The complaint said he was observed inside the tower beyond numerous posted signs that stated: “Do not enter. No trespassing. Violators will be prosecuted.”

“The defendant knowingly entered and remained unlawfully in a building and upon real property which was fenced and otherwise enclosed in a manner designed to exclude intruders,” the court papers said.

The investigation was continuing into whether the teen may have entered other parts of the building.

Casquejo had nothing to say to reporters Thursday morning on his way to school.

As CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported, the teen declined to speak to reporters on the advice of his attorney, but three of his friends were allowed inside his apartment Thursday night.

“It shocked me when I saw him on the news,” said Baleria Luna.

Luna, Casquejo’s former babysitter and a family friend, was stunned that the boy got into what people consider a well-guarded landmark tower.

“If I see Justin, I’ll pull his ear,” Luna said. “I don’t know, what was he thinking?”

But his adventure on Sunday in the middle of the night had many others in Casquejo’s neighborhood talking.

“He’s always been adventurous,” said friend Patrick Flores. “Honestly, I didn’t know at first this was him. But now that I knew it was him, I’m not surprised about this stunt at all.”

Flores said Casquejo has long been infamous for such stunts.

“‘Daredevil things’ is not even the word,” Flores said. “He’s always been like that.”

And Casquejo has plenty to show for it on social media. A few months ago, he was photographed dangling from a crane.

One of his favorite activities, Flores said, is parkour.

“It’s more like this thing where you’re just running around; jumping over obstacles, which is another thing why I was not surprised about this at all,” he said, “because it’s a big obstacle to get to the top of the building, and take pictures, get down. He almost got away with it too. I’m beyond impressed.”

Another friend, Dee Anthony, told 1010 WINS’ Al Jones he was also proud of Casquejo.

“I think it’s amazing,” he said. “It’s illegal to do that, but it’s still fun. It’s kind of cool in my opinion.”

But his latest stunt did not put him in early much danger as it exposed a security hole, in a building that stands on the site of perhaps the nation’s most horrific breach of security.

“They spent tens of millions of dollars in the security protocol for that site and obviously, it failed miserably, where a 16-year-old can simply go through a hole in the construction fence and make it up to the top of the tower,” said Manny Gomez of MG Security Services, and formerly of the NYPD and the FBI.

Casquejo was only caught and questioned after spending more than an hour at the top of the tower taking pictures. A security guard who could have stopped him on the way up was sleeping, Rincon reported.

“It’s extremely embarrassing for the Port Authority; for the City of New York; for, obviously, the security guard company in question – all of the above failed miserably,” Gomez said.

Gomez emphasized that someone far more dangerous could have gotten through the hole in the fence.

“To have a situation where basically a hole in a fence leads to somebody having access to the top of the building, where they could do any kind of harm, is a real concern to the whole security program there,” Gomez said.

Joe Dunne, chief security officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, issued a statement saying: “We take security and these type of infractions extremely seriously and will prosecute violators. We continue to reassess our security posture at the site and we are constantly working to make this site as secure as possible.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio was shocked by the incident.

“Obviously it’s shocking and troubling,” de Blasio said, “and I don’t know how it possibly could have happened.”

Sources told CBS 2 when Casquejo was arrested, Port Authority police officers seized his cellphone and camera, and the memory cards for both. They have obtained a warrant, and are looking for images taken so they can try to reconstruct his movements and identify others he encountered.

The goal is to “see what (Casquejo) did, where he was, and who he encountered – people that should have stopped him,” a source said.

The camera and cellphone will be returned to Casquejo after the review, the source said.

Casquejo’s trespassing charge carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail. But the consequences for him are still likely far less serious than the impact is likely to be on security at 1 World Trade Center.

Those who know Casquejo expect he will be punished to deter copycats, but they hope not too harshly.

Casquejo is due back in court on April 2.

The elevator operator who was working on the morning Casquejo was in the building has been removed from the site, sources said. The security officer who was working, an employee of contractor Durst Security, has been fired, sources said.

When completed, the World Trade Center site will have a $40 million security system, including barriers, guard booths and sally ports, or double-barrier systems creating areas to check vehicles for dangerous materials.

The city has said the system is necessary to protect a site that has been attacked by terrorists twice. Officials have said pedestrians and cyclists will be able to move about freely.

In February, a judge rejected a lawsuit challenging the security plan brought by nearby residents who said it would burden their neighborhood with fortress-like security.

Residents argued the neighborhood would become a gated community plagued by traffic jams and said the plan didn’t undergo a proper environmental review. The judge said the review process was proper.

The tower is scheduled to open later this year.

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