I Knew a Wannabe Mass Murderer: Here’s What I Learned
In 2013, something was dreadfully wrong with one of my childhood friends. Recently returned from school after a months-long stay at the Trillium Children’s Farm Home in Corvallis, the changes were subtle at first, but began to show themselves more as time went by. He talked about the friends he had made there, how some of them had been convicted of violent crimes, how some of them piqued his fascination with weaponry. Then things got worse. He revealed his fascination with the Columbine High School shooters. He bragged about obtaining information on how to construct homemade explosives. He showed us tactical gear and weapon attachments he had obtained. He talked about killing certain teachers and students who had wronged him.
Something was wrong. Something had to be done. So, one evening, I asked my mother for advice. She called a friend who worked with the police department, and I was told to expect more conversations in the morning. Over the next few months, my 17-year-old life was an absolute flurry of activity. First talking to the police, then to school faculty, then to reporters, then to friends and family, then community members. You see, this friend of mine had entire notebooks filled with dozens of contingency plans to carry out a massacre with guns and bombs at our high school. He studied the layout of the school in detail and had an almost exact timeline of events, as well as a list of exactly what he was going to wear. These revelations left our community in shock, and sometimes, I still can’t believe just how serious everything was. And everytime we hear about another tragic school, people ask me, “What’s your take on all this?” I usually stay quiet, or say very little. But this time, I can’t.
Having studied what information is available about the shooter in Florida, I can safely draw multiple parallels between him and that old friend of mine. And, no, I will not mention either of their names, for my own reasons. Furthermore, having listened to the testimonies of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I can draw many parallels between myself and them as well. So, almost five years later, I am here to tell you exactly what I saw then, and exactly what I see now. This will not be a political polemic. My opinions on guns, mental illness, the NRA, mass media, and what-have-you are not relevant to what I wish to talk about here today.
School Shooters Tend to Have a History of Violence, Particularly Towards Women and Girls
According to one student, interviewed by the New York Times, the Florida shooter had been abusive towards an ex-girlfriend and had been expelled from the school for violent conduct, and was accused by other students and staff of threatening and stalking behavior. This is consistent with many “lone wolf” mass murderers in the United States. According to a study by Everytown Research of all “mass shootings” (as classified by the FBI) from 2009 – 2016, in 54 percent of cases the shooter engaged in domestic or family violence prior to the massacre. You will notice earlier that I mentioned the Trillium Children’s Farm Home, but not why my friend was sent there. He had been convicted of attacking and threatening his mother and sister with a knife.
School Shooters Tend to Have a Fascination with Other School Shooters
As mentioned earlier, my friend repeatedly expressed a fascination with the Columbine shooters. Research from Arizona State University and Northeastern Illinois University shows that about 20 to 30 percent of mass shootings are directly inspired by other mass shootings. In 2014, Andre Simons of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit said, “The copycat phenomenon is real. As more and more notable and tragic events occur, we think we’re seeing more compromised, marginalized individuals who are seeking inspiration from those past attacks.
School Shooters Tend to Talk Openly About Their Plans
Multiple students at our high school interviewed after his arrest said that he had talked with them casually about constructing explosives. He showed off tactical gear and talked about who he wanted to kill. According to police reports, he did, in fact, have homemade bombs under the floorboards in his room.
The Florida shooter was not much different. Multiple reports detail the Florida shooter talking about killing students at the school, and about killing/violence in general, with multiple Instagram photos showing him covered head to toe in weaponry and tactical gear. As early as five months before the shooting, the killer had written “I’m going to be a professional school shooter” on his own YouTube page. According to Brett Carr, an FBI spokesman, the comment, and the person who made it, were reported to the FBI. The person who made that call, Benjamin Bennight, said two FBI agents spoke with him about it, but that was the end of it. In the aftermath of numerous other mass shootings, people who knew the killers have consistently come forward and said that they saw bizarre behaviors in the shooters which, in hindsight, gave away their intentions. In some cases, such as Columbine, certain students/colleagues were told not to attend school on the day of the massacre.
If You See Something, Say Something!
As someone who lived through the prevention of one of these tragedies, it breaks my heart to hear the testimonies of students, and especially more so to see the many warning signs that made themselves abundantly clear. Please understand that I am not blaming anyone who may have noticed something but didn’t act on it. These warning signs are extremely difficult to notice consistently until it is already too late. I certainly didn’t expect anything to come of my revelations. I hoped nothing would. But at the same time, I have never regretted my actions for one second. My message to anyone in any situation who is worried about someone being violent towards themselves or someone else, is speak out! If you notice these patterns in anyone you know, speak out! Even if you are wrong, and I hope that you are, no one will blame you for it. People will thank you for having courage and integrity. An oft-repeated mantra is “Better safe than sorry,” and there is hardly a time where that is more crucial than in a situation like this. Even though a headline of someone planning mass murder is terrifying, we can all agree that it is, at the end of the day, absolutely more preferable than the heartbreak and pain upon reading of another senseless massacre.