Two years ago, NBC News got a package in the mail from the VA Tech killer, Seung-Hui Cho, a South Korean immigrant. The impact of that style of "self-marketing" of mass killings lives on today.
We saw it as recently as the self-marketing of 2009's Birmingham killer in his alleged letter to TV channel NY1. The letter, in broken English was from Jiverly Wong, an ethnically Chinese immigrant, who was born in Vietnam. It was mailed, along with his driver's license, his gun permit, and several photos of himself, to News 10 Now in Syracuse, New York. The envelope was twilight languaged in how it was mailed by using three specific stamps: two Purple Hearts and a Liberty Bell. It was sent hours before Wong walked into the American Civic Association and opened fire in one of the worst massacres in the state's history, (13 killed + his own suicide).
Wong copycatted other recent mass killers, such as the Bailey, Colorado & Amish schoolhouse (2006) killers and Seung-Hui Cho (2007) in blockading the doors.
Columbine is the primary model for copycatting, and it was confirmed to be part of the mental process of the VA Tech shooter.
NBC's and MSNBC's unfolding of this story demonstrates they have rather wholehearted published the VA Tech shooter's photos, some of his words, and his video. The way they teased the public (e.g. "Turn in at 6:30 to see the exclusive video"; "See different photographs on MSNBC following NBC Nightly News"; "There will be more revealed on The Today Show in the morning") was so obviously a draw for higher rating. It was about the bottomline, when news becomes entertainment, a grab for more ad revenue. Death sells. If it bleeds, it leads.
How can we not expect it to be the same on the 10th anniversary of Columbine. The "expert" interviews have been coming hot and heavy.
This is exactly the level of glorification of school killers that I have recommended against for several years now, and brought to together in my book.
The Columbine killers, I was not surprised to hear, were noted in the VA Tech shooter's materials. Cho Seung-hui called Columbine's Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold "martyrs." Harris and Klebold live on in their videos and got them broadcast; why won't the VA Tech shooter wish to get his images shown to the world too. NBC fell right into his master plan.
Of course, not acknowledged by the graphic wall-to-wall cable networks is what a central role they have in triggering copycats. On "Hardball," on April 18, 2007, Chris Matthews made an under-informed remark about the "copycat effect." Matthews challenged the notion of the copycat effect by saying aloud that there had not been any copycats of Columbine since Columbine. He said that it was odd that there had been a skipping of the eight years since Columbine, saying VA Tech was unique apparently, as if his facts were correct.
What Matthews and others could find if they looked is that there is a clear history of Columbine copycats. This trickle down through the years, with some of the most concrete elements of direct links and copycatting to be found between Columbine, Santee Red Lake, Dawson College, and VA Tech.
Just read about the direct copycats that happened immediately after Columbine:
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, killed one teacher and 12 students and wounded 23 others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Focusing their attack on the cafeteria, Harris and Klebold spoke German and worn trench coats, as they reenacted scenes from Matrix and The Basketball Diaries in the nation's deadliest school shooting. They had plotted for a year to kill at least 500 and blow up their school. At the end of their hour-long rampage, they turned their guns on themselves. Harris and Klebold appeared to have deliberately chosen the anniversary date of Hitler’s Birthday for their attack. At one point, Harris and Klebold had considered the highly important date of April 19, too – the anniversary of Waco and the Oklahoma City bombing – but transportation problems forced a delay in their plans. They finally carried out their attack on the 20th – speaking German and “honoring” Hitler. (They had also discussed that after the attack, they would hijack a jetliner, fly it from Colorado, and crash it into Manhattan. This was two years before the terror of 2001.)
In the wake of the shootings in Littleton, the nation’s schools were under attack by copycats. Some 400 related incidents were reported in the month following the killings. “Across the nation after the 1999 Columbine tragedy,” noted Court TV’s Katherine Ramsland, “other kids called in bomb threats, wore trench coats to school, or used the Internet to praise what Klebold and Harris had done. Only ten days later, on April 30, people feared the eruption of some major event because that day marked Hitler’s suicide in 1945. Schools in Arizona, New Jersey, Michigan, North Carolina, and DC closed to investigate potential threats. It wasn't Paducah, or Jonesboro, or Springfield that they wanted to imitate; the mantra was ‘Columbine.’”
One week after Columbine, on April 28, 1999, one student, Jason Lang, 17, was killed, and one wounded at W. R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta, Canada. This was the first fatal high school shooting in Canada in 20 years. The shooter was a 14-year-old boy. Exactly a month after Columbine, on May 20, 1999, at Conyers, Georgia, six students were injured at Heritage High School when classmate Thomas Solomon, 15, opened fire. No one died. Witnesses reported that Solomon placed the revolver in his mouth as if to shoot himself, but he did not pull the trigger.On November 19, 1999, Victor Cordova Jr., 12, shot and killed Araceli Tena, 13, in the lobby of Deming Middle School in Deming, New Mexico. At Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, on December 6, 1999, four students were wounded as Seth Trickey, 13, opened fire with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun at Fort Gibson Middle School.The Copycat Effect, pages 175-176
But for MSNBC's Chris Matthews and others who have so quickly forgotten what they have talked about on their own shows in the recent past, there are other shooters who have joined the cult of Columbine before they have untaken their shootings.
The Santana High School, Santee, California, was the site of a school shooting on March 5, 2001, when fifteen-year old student Charles Andrew Williams opened fire with a pistol, killing two fellow students, and wounding 15 others. Williams told friends he was going to "pull a Columbine."
Let's not forget that Columbine happened on Hitler's birthday. On April 26, 2002, on Rudolf Hess's birthday, Robert Steinhäuser, killed 16 people plus himself at his Erfurt, Germany high school. He had files on his computer, which contained information about the Columbine Massacre. Steinhäuser had outdone the Columbine total (which may have been one of his goals).
Jeff Weise, at the Red Lake Chippewa Reservation in Minnesota, a Native youth who identified more with the Columbine shooters than his own people, picked Monday, March 21, 2005, to kill his grandfather (whom he lived with), his grandfather's girlfriend, and then went to the high school to kill seven. He turned the gun on himself, dying by suicide. The death toll was ten. He used a .22 handgun, 9mm Glock 17, and had a shotgun. Weise would reference Columbine over the internet, with the username which translated to "Abandoned 420." In an incident mirroring what took place during the Columbine shootings, one eyewitness said that Weise asked a victim if he believed in God before shooting him.
Forgotten today is that many near-Columbines were discovered in 2005 (the same year, reportedly, that Cho Seung-hui's contacts with mental health and law enforcement reached its first peak). According to Canada's National Post on March 18, 2005, New Brunswick's Saint John and Harbourview high schools were disturbed to discover three teenage boys, aged 15 to 17, had in mind a well-planned massacre for April 20 (Columbine High School massacre's anniversary date, of course). Other Columbine-like plots were also discovered in March 2005 in Colorado and California. During mid-March 2005, news reports furthermore told of Utah's Uintah High School where four students had a serious plot to carry out a Columbine-like raid, and of a Oregon, Illinois, school, where two 15-year-old sophomores and one 14-year-old freshman who exploded two homemade bombs nearby.
James Scott Newman, a 14-year-old boy opened fire, injuring two students at a Reno middle school on March 14, 2006. Newman planned the shooting for a week by "Research[ing] the Columbine High School shooting on the Internet, and this further inspired him to do the shooting," reported law enforcement investigators.
On August 29, 2006, in Hillsborough, North Carolina, one was dead (father of teenage shooter) and two wounded (two students) at the Orange High School. After killing his father at home, the shooter showed up in a trench coat, with guns, pipe bombs, in a copycat of Columbine. Asked by police why he went to Orange High School, Alvaro Rafael Castillo, 19, responded: "Columbine. Remember Columbine."
The most obvious recent copycat event that closely serves as a bridge between Columbine and VA Tech, which Chris Matthews should have hardly forgotten, is the Dawson College campus shooting of September 13, 2006, in Montreal, Quebec. Kimveer Gill, the 25-year-old shooter, a self-described atheist Goth Columbine copycat, with an Indian Sikh heritage, wearing a trenchcoat, dark clothing, and a strange looking haircut, came to Dawson College, fully armed. He had with him a Beretta Cx4 Storm carbine, a Glock 9mm handgun, and a Norinco HP9-1 short barreled shotgun. He appeared to target what students call the "Jew Caf" and opened fire, killing Anastasia de Sousa, 18, and wounded 19 other students. Police fired upon him, and then Gill turned the gun on himself. Gill was obsessed by the Columbine massacre. He mentioned online being a fan of several computer games (e.g. Super Columbine Massacre) and movies (e.g. Natural Born Killers, Matrix).
Death sells. If it bleeds, it leads. What was NBC thinking?