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New Mexico solar observatory was closed because of suspected child pornography

A New Mexico observatory was suddenly evacuated and closed earlier this month because of the suspected posse...

Posted: Sep 20, 2018 7:51 PM
Updated: Sep 20, 2018 7:51 PM

A New Mexico observatory was suddenly evacuated and closed earlier this month because of the suspected possession and distribution of child pornography, authorities say.

The facility was closed September 6 because of an unspecified "security issue." That led some people to speculate on the internet about aliens or UFOs. The observatory is close to Roswell, where a mysterious object crashed in 1947.

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But, according to an FBI application for a search warrant obtained by CNN affiliate KOAT, a janitor at the facility is suspected of using the Sunspot Solar Observatory's WiFi to download and share child pornography.

This week, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), which manages the observatory at Sacramento Peak, said it was cooperating with a law enforcement investigation into criminal activity.

AURA did not respond to CNN's request for comment early Thursday. But it said in its statement on Sunday the facility was reopening and that employees would return to work.

The investigation

The inquiry kicked off in late July, when an agent with New Mexico's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force traced a series of IP addresses with connections to child pornography to the observatory, according to the court documents.

On August 21, the chief observer told federal authorities he had repeatedly found a laptop "plugged in and running" in offices that were either empty or weren't often used, documents said. He described the laptop's contents as "not good," and that day, FBI agents seized it.

The next day, the chief observer allegedly saw the janitor leaving the office where the laptop had been taken by the FBI. The janitor asked if anyone had been inside, and told the observer he was concerned about the facility's "lax security."

The janitor allegedly continued to "feverishly" search the observatory and bring up concerns about security, saying "it was only a matter of time before the facility 'got hit.' " He also said a serial killer might murder someone at the observatory, documents said.

Authorities eventually got a warrant to search the janitor's home.

While the janitor was named in court documents KOAT obtained, Reuters reported Wednesday he has not been charged. CNN is not identifying him.

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