An American woman has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole for a decade as a result of her role in a plot to commit mass murder at a Halifax mall on Valentine’s Day in 2015.
Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath sat quietly in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Friday as the sentence was read out by Justice Peter Rosinski.
Wearing a white sweater, she did not move or make eye contact with her family, who travelled from Geneva, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, to attend the trial.
Souvannarath, along with Randall Steven Thomas Shepherd and James Gamble, was involved in the 2015 plan to use rifles and Molotov cocktails on people at the food court in the Halifax Shopping Centre.
In Facebook messages entered as evidence during the sentencing, Gamble and Souvannarath said they hoped they would inspire further mass shootings in Canada and throughout the world — a reasoning that Rosinki referenced in his decision.
“Ms. Souvannarath, and others, must be sent the message that those who choose to pursue such deadly plans will pay a very heavy price,” he wrote.
Inspired by an internet echo chamber
Souvannarath’s parents had submitted letters to the court ahead of the sentencing, attesting that the girl they knew was not capable of the violence that the evidence suggested.
Described by her family as someone who had a hard time connecting with others, Souvannarath found a home online and became obsessed with Nazism, hatred and mass shootings.
“[Souvannarath] had been hardened by social rejection and inspired by an internet echo chamber for the disaffected, which glorified violence and death. She was not the Lindsay they had known anymore,” The judge wrote.
The sentence was handed down on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings, which Souvannarath, along with her partner James Gamble, cited as an inspiration for their plan to commit mass murder.
According to a report by the lead investigator for Columbine, hundreds of Facebook messages between Gamble and Souvannarath indicate they were “reincarnations of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold,” the perpetrators of the 1999 shooting at a high school in Columbine, Colo.
“Ms. Souvannarath’s intention was to kill more than the 13 people who suffered that fate at the Columbine High School shooting, where 21 further people were seriously injured,” Rosinski wrote in his ruling.
Crown prosecutors Shauna MacDonald and Mark Heerma said they welcomed the decision, saying that the sentence was “unequivocal” in finding that mass shootings would never be acceptable in Canada.
The Crown had argued that Souvannarath should face 20 years to life imprisonment for her role in the plan. Since there is no punishment for a conspiracy to commit mass murder, they urged the judge to accept a sentencing decision based off of “terrorism offences.”
“Crimes of terrorism share the pith and substance of the case at bar: the desire to deeply destabilize society through the infliction of mass, random casualties for the sake of some irrational cause,” the crown wrote in its sentencing submission.
The judge agreed and rejected the argument of Luke Craggs, the defence lawyer, that the plan was “big talk” and far from being realistic.
“Had the plan not been interrupted, I am satisfied that Mr. Gamble and Ms. Souvannarath would have carried it out,” Rosinski wrote.
As part of the sentence, Souvannarath has been ordered to provide a DNA sample and be prohibited from having firearms for 10 years.
Her first opportunity to apply for parole will happen on Feb. 13, 2025 — exactly 10 years after her arrest.
Origin of plan found online
The judge said that Souvannarath found a kindred spirit who shared her interests in Gamble. Soon after the pair connected online, they developed a long-distance, romantic relationship, casually discussing plans to commit acts of mass violence.
Eventually, Gamble began to plan a mass shooting of his own.
Gamble had told Souvannarath that Shepherd, whom he described as his only friend, wasn’t interested in a mass murder and asked her to take his place.
Souvannarath was interested in being his partner and was eager to participate.
“They planned their attack in great detail throughout January and early February of 2015,” said an agreed-upon statement of facts, noting they planned details such as the time, place, weapons to be used and “whether they would taunt the victims.”
WATCH:Plans of Halifax mall plot revealed in court
The mall was chosen as a target because it would result in “mass panic,” the pair believed.
Gamble had obtained his father’s firearms — a lever-action hunting rifle and a single-action, 16-gauge shotgun — which he and Souvannarath planned to use.
“Both carefully selected ‘death outfits’ to be worn during the shooting, which included wearing masks. … A musical soundtrack was created and they agreed to post a video of the shooting on the Internet to document the massacre,” the statement of facts read.
The pair named their plan “Der Untergang,” which is German for “the downfall,” and the massacre was to end with their own suicides.
After the police were tipped off to the plot, officers tracked down Gamble on Feb. 13, 2015.
Instead of having uniformed officers approach the residence to make an arrest, investigators decided it would be best, for safety reasons, to talk to the teen over the phone.
When Gamble was reached by phone around 9 p.m., an officer said he informed the teen that he would be arrested and taken to the police station for questioning regarding alleged threats made through social media.
As their five-minute conversation concluded, the officer said he heard a gunshot, then some clicking sounds on the phone.
Gamble had shot himself in the head with the hunting rifle he had intended to use in the mass shooting.
A future behind bars
Shepherd, pleaded guilty in 2015 to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. He’s currently serving a 10-year prison term.
The judge concluded that Souvannarath’s prospect for rehabilition is low, saying that although she has accepted her role in the planning of the crime, Souvannarath has only expressed remorse about Gamble’s death.
He found that Souvannarath’s decision to plead guilty was made immediately after he ruled Facebook messages between her and Gamble would be admissible — saying they provided a large body of evidence he found to be persuasive of her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Ms. Souvannarath is presently, and will remain an ongoing threat to public safety. It is therefore that she be separated from society until that concern can be satisfactorily addressed,” Rosinski wrote.
The judge recommended that Souyvannarath receive “intensive psychological and psychiatric counselling and treatment,” and that she only be permitted supervised access to the internet.