In part one of Inside the Church of Columbine, I introduced you to a fringe group of true crime bloggers known as Columbiners and attempted to determine whether or not these people posed a threat to society. During the course of my research I came across a Vice article titled I Was a Suspected School Shooter.
In the article, author Gina Tron describes how a simple dispute between herself and another student escalated to accusations by the school administration of the author planning a Columbine-style school shooting. Though the author was eventually allowed back in school, she faced persecution by students and faculty members, with some teachers refusing to have her as a student in their classes. Tron began to embrace her “potential school shooter” image and acted out in strange ways, even reveling in the fear she invoked in others. At the end of the day, Tron was just another angsty teenager searching for her place in the world and the same can be said for most Columbiners, including the ones who look to the Columbine shooters as heroes.
Dave Cullen, a journalist and Columbine researcher who has often butted heads with Columbiners, also agrees that while these blogs may seem alarming, a majority of the blog owners are not any sort threat. If that’s the case, then how do we distinguish someone who is a legitimate threat from a disenfranchised teen looking for solace in the exploits and writings of spree killers?
School Shooter Chic
According to a report by ABC News, more than 50 attacks that have been carried out or thwarted are said to have been inspired by Columbine. Newtown, CT shooter Adam Lanza was among those who drew inspiration from the Columbine attacks. A number of documents and videos were found on his computer pertaining to Columbine and he was also said to be a regular commentator on a message board for a controversial Columbine-inspired video game.
In 2007, an 18-year-old Finnish Columbiner named Pekka-Eric Auvinen carried out a Columbine-style attack, killing eight before turning the gun on himself. Prior to the attack, Auvinen posted a video of himself online describing his political motivations behind his attack. He also allegedly posted a sprawling manifesto where he describes his God-like delusions of grandeur and states his belief that all lives are not created equal.
It’s been said that even the 9/11 attackers drew from Columbine shooter Eric Harris’ journal, where he described a fantasy he had about hijacking an airplane and flying it into New York City. It would seem that every major tragedy within the past 17 years has had some roots in Columbine and that was certainly no different for a group of Tumblr Columbiners, who last year allegedly plotted to pull a similar attack at a Halifax, NS mall.
What do the individuals involved in planning the Halifax mall attack have in common with most of the others who have participated in similar attacks, including the Columbine shooters themselves? They left clear warnings of their plans ahead of time.
23-year-old Lindsay Souvannarath from Geneva, IL met 19-year-old James Gamble and 20-year-old Randall Shepherd through a blog she ran on Tumblr. The words “School Shooter Chic” and “Violence is aesthetic” graces the top of the page underneath a stylized pastel swastika. It can be assumed that this is a mashup of the topics she most loved to blog about: fashion, Columbine, guns and Nazis. Lindsay also ran a Facebook account under the name “Lindsay Shub-Niggurath.” There you can see more photos she has posted, which are primarily composed of selfies intertwined with Nazi propaganda.
James Gamble had a Tumblr blog as well. Like Lindsay’s, his page is full of material related to Columbine, Adolf Hitler and extreme violence. He and another Nova Scotia native named Randall (Randy) Shepherd had been friends since high school. And like his friend, Randy enjoyed blogging about his interests, including Columbine.
Nearly a month before the attack was to take place at least two of the suspects involved posted vague threats eluding to their plans. One of those threats came in the form of a poster with Gamble and Souvannarath Photoshopped together with the words “Der Untergang” – German for “Downfall” as well as the title of a bioflick based on the final days of Hitler’s life – and “Valentine’s Day it’s going down.” At least one person who either saw the threats or was invited to participate in the plot was disturbed enough to alert crimestoppers.
Souvannarath and Shepherd were both apprehended when they attempted to meet at the airport. At the same time police surrounded the home of Gamble. Police found Gamble dead through an apparent suicide. A fourth suspect was also initially apprehended, but later released due to a lack of evidence.
Shepherd and Souvannarath are still awaiting sentencing for conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit arson, making a threat through social media, and illegal possession of dangerous weapons. Due to the overwhelming amount of evidence the prosecution has to go through, a bulk of that evidence coming from various social media accounts ran by the trio, the case has been postponed until all evidence could be reviewed. Their trial proceedings are expected to begin in August 2016.
The group was upset yet fragmented in their shock to hear about the thwarted Halifax shooting plot. Many expressed their condolences for the online blogger they had come to know as a friend, James Gamble. Some were quick to point fingers and say that Gamble had been the victim of bullying. An example of this bullying was posted publicly to his blog where he argued with several other Tumblr users over perceived racism from Gamble, a subject that in and of itself often separates the Columbiner community.
Others have claimed that Souvannarath and Shepherd were innocent or that they had been suffering from mental illness, but this is all speculation since many within the Columbiner community did not know the details of their plot, what evidence was collected, and lack the credentials necessary to diagnose someone as mentally ill to the extent of not understanding right from wrong.
Eva was able to describe how the community felt overall, at least from her perception, when they learned that a few of the bloggers many Columbiners interacted with regularly were involved and one of them had committed suicide. “…It was a dark time to realise that people we’d talked with or reblogged from, people whose presence we saw on our dashboard every day, would get involved in a Columbine-style plot and make an attempt at carrying this out. It was something that was spoken of with disapproval and alarm in equal measure. There was also this question of.. how did we miss this? I think that we have become more alert since that horrible day when the news hit us, but of course we are also fallible and will not always see what’s going on until it is too late. The community does its best to reach out to members who’re struggling and many of the friendships formed here are not destructive but supportive.”
In part one of this article in regards to my initial question “Are Columbiners a threat?” I said that generally Columbiners are not dangerous, except for when they are. I do not necessarily believe that having an interest in true crime or serial killers makes someone a dangerous person in and of itself. Even some of the hero worship of the Columbine gunmen and the morbid humor that runs rampant within the Columbiner community seems more like efforts from angsty teens to seem “edgy” and perhaps even an attempt to appear more dangerous than they actually are.
Of course these interests shouldn’t be completely dismissed and need to be taken into account when combined with dozens of other mitigating factors. If you suspect someone is a threat or is battling some deep seeded issues then the best approach would be to talk, listen, and understand before jumping to conclusions. And of course, if you ever see or hear someone make a direct threat, whether it be a threat to themselves or to others, then report it right away.