Update: National and even international attention continues to focus on three Denver-area girls who were taken into custody because of suspicions that they planned to join the ISIS terror group in Syria (see our previous coverage below). But even as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was thanking Germany for its assistance in stopping the alleged plot, a school district spokeswoman was describing the teens as "good girls" who were victims of recruitment she likened to the efforts of online predators. Continue for the latest, including photos, video and audio.
News broke about these allegations just over a month after another metro-area teenager, Arvada's Shannon Conley, pleaded guilty for an attempt to aid ISIS.
In the latest case, as we've noted, three girls -- sisters aged fifteen and seventeen and a sixteen-year-old friend -- were reported missing after they didn't show up for classes. When the teens were found, they were a long way from home -- specifically Frankfurt, Germany, where federal agents believe they hoped to catch a flight to Turkey before continuing to Syria with an eye toward connecting with ISIS.
The three teens are back in Colorado and have been reunited with family members that have eschewed contact with media, including those reporters who have staked out the Arapahoe County home of the sisters.
Not as reticent was Tustin Amole, spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District, which encompasses the school attended by the teens. In an interview with NPR, one of numerous major news agencies with which she spoke, Amole said, "These are good girls. We've never had a history of issues with them. We've never seen indication of any propensity for violence."
She added that the school district considers the teens victims of online predators, albeit of a very different sort than the sexual deviants who attract so much attention from domestic law enforcement. In this case, Amole believes the girls were seduced by an ISIS rep into leaving Colorado with an eye toward joining the war for terror, as opposed to the battle against it.
Although the investigation is ongoing, no charges have been filed against the teens thus far, and Amole says they're welcome to return to their school -- although there's a very good chance they won't, if only because of possible cruelties that could be visited upon them by fellow students. Meanwhile, plenty of questions remain, including how exactly the teens managed to get to Germany in the first place.
Below, see a 7News report about the latest developments, followed by the aforementioned NPR piece, with audio supplemented by the transcript. After that, find our previous coverage, featuring more photos and videos.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Three teenage girls from the Denver area apparently tried to join the so-called Islamic State. The girls, ages 15, 16 and 17, were reported missing by their parents on Friday. They were later stopped in Germany at the Frankfurt airport en route to Turkey. For more details, Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee joins us now. And Megan, walk us through the timeline of events here.
MEGAN VERLEE, BYLINE: Well, Robert, this started last Friday when the girls - they're two sisters and a friend - left the Denver area on a flight to Europe. And that night, their parents filed a missing persons report with local authorities and, at the time, it was treated as a fairly normal runaway case. When the girls arrived in Frankfurt that weekend, they were - or this past weekend - they were detained by German officials, who had been alerted to them by the U.S. according to the German Interior Ministry. And not too long after that, they were on a flight home to Colorado. Once the girls got back here, they did have some contact with the FBI, although the FBI is not saying what kind and they were returned to their parents.
SIEGEL: And what have you learned about these three young women?
VERLEE: Well, the sisters in this case are of Somali descent. Their friend is Sudanese. And as we've said before, they're aged 15, 16 and 17. They're all high school students. These young women did not tell their parents about their plans, but they did let their classmates know via Twitter about what they were doing, and some of those classmates actually went to school officials because they were quite worried. I spoke with Tustin Amole, who's a spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District where those girls attend high school, and she had this to say.
TUSTIN AMOLE: These are good girls. We've never had a history of issues with them. We've never seen indication of any propensity for violence.
VERLEE: As far as the school district is concerned, they seem to be treating these girls as victims. The spokesperson went on to describe the possibility that they might've been lured into this by what Amole describes as online predators.
SIEGEL: Now, there have been some other high-profile cases in Colorado of young people trying to aid radical Islamic groups. What about some of those other incidents?
VERLEE: Earlier this year, 19-year-old Shannon Conley was arrested at Denver International Airport as she was trying to make her way to Syria. Conley told FBI she'd recently converted to Islam and become radicalized online, and that's also where she met a purported ISIS fighter whom she had agreed to marry and was trying to travel to meet with. Conley pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization and she's due to be sentenced later this year.
And then back in 2009, Jamie Ramirez left Colorado to marry a member of an Islamic extremist group in Ireland. Authorities believe he planned to use her American citizenship to help him launch attacks. She's currently serving an 8-year sentence.
SIEGEL: And Megan, this is an unusual case, this most recent one, in that we have three girls, they're minors and the overt act that they took was to effectively to fly to Germany - I mean, to try to fly to Turkey. What kind of charges might they face for doing that, now that they're back with their parents?
VERLEE: Well, that's a big question and my understanding is that when it comes to federal courts, there are very strict rules about keeping juvenile cases sealed. So we might not learn what charges authorities are investigating or even if they eventually bring them.
And it's important to remember that one big thing we still don't know in all of this, as you just described there, is how far the girls actually got in their planning and how much contact they may have really had with anyone from the Islamic State. I think whatever investigators turn up on that will have a lot of bearing on how authorities end up handling this case.
SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Megan.
VERLEE: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's Megan Verlee, reporter with Colorado Public Radio.
Continue for our previous coverage about the three teens who allegedly planned to join ISIS, including photos and videos. Original post, 5:34 a.m. October 22: The Denver area is becoming nationally known for teen girls wanting to become terrorists.
Just over a month after nineteen-year-old Arvada resident Shannon Conley pleaded guilty to accusations that she tried to aid the ISIS terror group, a trio of even younger teens is being accused of swiping money from their parents and heading toward Syria, where they, too, hoped to throw in with Islamic State militants. Photos, two videos, a document and details below.
Much more information has been released about Conley owing to her age; she's legally an adult.
As we've reported, Conley was arrested at Denver International Airport in April prior to boarding a plane bound for Turkey. Federal investigators believe she planned to travel from there to Syria, where she hoped to marry "a 32-year-old Tunisian male" who claimed to be fighting on behalf of ISIS.
By coincidence, Conley's September 10 guilty plea arrived on the same day that President Barack Obama addressed the nation on the topic of ISIS and his plan for a military response. No wonder CBS News zeroed in on her case in an article headlined "Colorado teen Shannon Conley's support of ISIS raises alarm about American jihadists." Here's an excerpt:
Conley's case has further raised concerns about Americans traveling abroad for jihad. The FBI has said it doesn't know exactly how many Americans are fighting abroad. A United Nations expert recently put the number of foreign fighters currently in Syria at around 12,000.
FBI Director James Comey hedged in August when asked exactly how many Americans are fighting in Syria.
"When I give you the number of more than 100, I can't tell you with high confidence that's a 100 of 200, that's a 100 of 500, that's a 100 of a 1,000 or more, because it's so hard to track," Comey said.
He said FBI agents tried to distinguish between people only chatting about potentially extremist ideologies -- whom he called "mouth-runners" -- and those taking active steps to engage in terrorism.
"This is a great country with lots of traditions of protecting mouth-running," he said. "We should continue that. But those who are inclined to cross the line, I've got to focus on them."
When FBI director Comey appeared in Denver in late August, he made similar comments. According to him, Conley wasn't arrested until she was boarding a plane because talking about a crime is "protected conduct." He added, "We are not interested in people talking. If they cross the line into doing, then we're prepared to respond. We don't ever want to infringe speech. But we want to save lives and protect people if someone crosses the line."
That brings us to the latest case, which bears strong similarities to the Conley matter. On Friday, according to CBS4, three girls -- sisters aged fifteen and seventeen and a sixteen-year-old friend -- were reported missing after they didn't show up for classes. They haven't been named because they're underage and neither has the school been identified -- but the missing-persons filing was made in Arapahoe County.
When the teens were found, they were a long way from home -- specifically Frankfurt, Germany, where federal agents believe they hoped to catch a flight to Turkey before continuing to Syria with an eye toward connecting with ISIS.
No motives have been revealed for the teens; CNN reports that the sisters are of Somali descent, while the friend's family is from the Sudan. However, their computers are being analyzed in the wake of them being reunited with their families. They're said to have financed their trip with $2,000 taken from their parents without permission.
Meanwhile, charges have yet to be filed, and it's uncertain if any will be. What's clear, though, is that there have now been four Denver-area teenage girls taken into custody because of suspicions that they wanted to translate their sympathies for the Islamic State into action.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.