Bryant Neal Vinas is making more of an impression on his neighbors in Patchogue and Medford now, as the son of immigrants becomes the newest face of homegrown terrorism, than he ever did while he lived among them.
Investigators said Vinas, a son of immigrants from Peru and Argentina, left Patchogue abruptly in September 2007 to learn Arabic and to further the studies in Islam that he received at a Selden mosque.
But authorities said he ended up meeting with high-level members of the Taliban and al-Qaida in Pakistan just months after that, and that he participated in a bombing attack on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
Some neighbors recalled Vinas from when he was a boy in Medford, where he had lived with his mother after his parents' divorce until about four years ago, when authorities say he moved in with his father in Patchogue.
"I haven't seen him since he was this little," said Medford neighbor Robert Gutieres, 53, gesturing to his knee as he added that he remembers Vinas and his older sister, Lina, as children.
Gutieres, who served in the Navy, said he's shocked to hear about Vinas, who had a normal, all-American childhood, riding bikes on the street, while Lina was the local baby-sitter.
The charges, Gutieres said, are "no reflection on the mother and daughter. This poor woman's son turned against us. . . . The mom was the best to these kids and took good care of them."
Vinas' worrisome admissions stand in stark contrast to the humble beginnings he had on Long Island, where he was raised as a Catholic and played baseball on local ballfields like other youngsters in Patchogue and Medford.
Vinas could be stubborn and private, his father, Juan Vinas, told the Los Angeles Times. A dispute with his mother caused him to leave her Medford home and move in with his father at least four years ago, relatives say.
Juan Vinas said his son resisted advice that he go to college. Vinas took a few technical courses and failed to complete them, his father said. He worked in nearby Smithtown, but did not say anything about his job, his father said.
With Zachary R. Dowdy