WATCH: Two suspects in a mall shooting foiled by police made their first appearance in a Halifax court room Tuesday. Ross Lord reports that the suspects now face more charges.
TORONTO – Social media pages believed to be linked to deceased Halifax shooting plot suspect James Gamble have put the spotlight on a dark corner of the web – fan pages dedicated to those who have carried out deadly attacks, such as the Columbine school shooting.
On Saturday, 23-year-old Lindsay Souvannarath and 20-year-old Randall Shepherd were charged with conspiracy to commit murder in an alleged plot to attack a public place in Halifax on Valentine’s Day that police say could have resulted in mass killings. A 17-year-old boy from the Halifax area was released without charge but remains under investigation.
A fourth suspect, now known as 19-year-old Gamble, was found dead by police Friday morning.
A Tumblr blog thought to be linked to Gamble features pictures of weapons, Nazi symbols and many references to natural selection.
On Feb. 5, an image circulated on another account featuring what is believed to be the teen’s username and the phrase: “Valentine’s Day it’s going down.”
The blog also features many images relating to the Columbine shooting, including the account’s profile avatar, which features a GIF showing security camera footage of the attack in the school library.
Many have now linked Gamble to an online cult-like following of the Columbine school shooting, known as “Columbiners.”
What are Columbiners?
After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 researchers noted that a group of Columbine “fans” had formed online. Bloggers obsessed over details of the shooting, which left 13 dead and 21 injured, and some even appeared to idolize the shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
“Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, and Charles Manson all have their groupies, but the widest and most prolific group seems to be the Columbiners, who have devoted themselves to Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold,” wrote blogger Rachel Munroe in an article titled “The Killer Crush: The Horror Of Teen Girls, From Columbiners To Beliebers.”
Some of the Columbiner community is made up of young girls who may describe themselves as hybristophiliacs – those who are attracted to people who have committed murder or other violent crimes, often referred to as “Bonnie and Clyde syndrome.”
Often times these Columbiners write fan fiction, some about romantic or sexual interactions with Harris and Klebold.
Other users seem to idolize the shooters and praise them for taking down the bullies that tortured them.
“The one thing they pretty much all share in common is that they see them as these two outcast boys who were living sad lives – and after years of taking it rose up and got revenge,” journalist Dave Cullen, author of Columbine, told Global News.
“Most of these kids seem to be kids who are bullied themselves or just don’t fit in and are just looking for some heroes.”
Are all Columbiners a threat?
Cullen, who’s been actively trolled online by the Columbiners community for his commentary on the shooting, said while these teen’s idolization of Harris and Klebold may seem alarming, he believes most of them aren’t a danger.
“The problem is the tiny fraction who really are dangerous tend to look the same. That’s the difficult part – identifying the threat,” he said.
Cullen said the key factor is the level of specificity – the more specific the threat, the more danger there is.
“Typically the public thinks a phrase like ‘I want to kill everyone,’ is more dangerous than ‘I want to kill the principal.’ It’s actually the other way around.”
He added a threat that includes specific information about locations, dates and weapons indicates that the person has spent a lot of time thinking about an attack and may even have acquired the means to carry it out.
Not every user who identifies as a Columbiner fantasizes about the attacks, either.
A Tumblr page belonging to two Canadian users, who claim to be friends with Gamble, defended their interest in Columbine in response to another user who criticized them for mourning the loss of Gamble.
“It’s an interest and there is nothing wrong with being interested and active in the true crime community,” reads the post. “But sometimes things go too far and bad things happen. If anyone needs help it’s important to reach out and get it.”
But why does Columbine still have influence after 16 years?
Columbiners aren’t alone
Harris and Klebold aren’t the only murderers to have gained a fan following online.
Shortly after James Holmes shot up an Aurora, Colorado move theatre – killing 12 and injuring 58 – in July 2012, self-proclaimed “Holmies” began blogging about their love for the 24-year-old on Tumblr.
Holmies often post pictures wearing plaid shirts (Holmes was caught wearing one) and drinking Slurpee’s, after an old video of Holmes boasting about his love for the frozen drink surfaced online. The fans have even created message boards with instructions on how to send Holmes letters in prison.