57. Black Plastic

August 5, 2009

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

The door at the top of the stairs was closed.

Kaynbred was on Wikipedia, reading an article that had been in existence for less than a day: “2009 Collier Township shooting.” Under the section “Perpetrator,” it talked about the gym gunman’s online journal. Someone had just updated the article, to say that the shooter’s website had been taken offline, as of 11:15am.

The user at 36 Yogananda clicked to the “Talk” tab, clicked “edit,” and added a new entry to the conversation.

Kaynbred: It was not removed at 11:15 AM. It is actually still available; just refresh the page multiple times and it will appear.

He kept checking back. About a week later, he returned to the “Talk” page, to confirm for anyone reading that finally, the shooter’s website had been taken offline for real. Of course, by then it hardly mattered. What the shooter wrote had been all over the news.

* * *

He went to Google, and started looking up information on the Assault Weapons Ban that Connecticut had passed back in ‘93. He was interested in a certain rifle, a Czech-manufactured semi-automatic called a VZ Model 58.

He read about the name-ban, and the features-ban. He found it as confusing as anyone else.

On August 25th, he registered a new account on the website “The High Road.” It was a firearms discussion forum, like Northeast Shooters, but geared toward providing information to new shooters. He went to the “Legal” forum — where the users “try to understand what the law is, how it works, and how it applies” — and posted a new thread.

TOPIC: “AK-47 type” legality and the CZ Vz. 58?

Kaynbred: The CZ Vz. 58 is a rifle which is similar to the AK-47 only through their shared 7.62x39mm caliber and aesthetics. It functions entirely differently and has no interchangeable parts with the AK-47, including the magazine.

My state (Connecticut) has its own state-level assault weapons ban. In it is the following:

Sec. 53-202a. Assault weapons: Definition. (a)… inclusive, “assault weapon” means: (1)… any of the following specified semiautomatic firearms:… Avtomat Kalashnikov AK-47 type…

According to what I have read, to be an “AK-47 type,” the firearm must be aesthetically similar to an AK-47, operate similarly, and have interchangeable parts. From a perfunctory search of Google, I have seen multiple people claim that because the CZ Vz. 58 does not meet these three requirements, it is not an “AK-47 type” and it is thus legal for sale in Connecticut. Does anyone have any information on this?

The other users wrote back, polite and helpful. They assured him that the rifle would clear Connecticut’s name-ban. And since it came with a detachable magazine and a pistol-grip, he would just need to be careful that the one he bought didn’t have any additional “military features” installed.

He was also looking at an HK-91 (the same gun they used to market as an “assault rifle” in gun magazines in the 80’s: “In a survival situation, you want the most uncompromising weapon that money can buy.”) It was made in Germany, and had been on the import-ban list since 1989 — but the PTR-91, manufactured in South Carolina and nearly identical in its design, was legal. “Just make sure you get one with a fixed stock so that it conforms to the other stupid part of the CT AWB,” the other users reminded him.

He started another topic, asking whether a semi-automatic version of the Skorpion sub-machine gun would be legal in his state. It fired the .32 ACP round, a compact bullet usually chambered in “pocket pistols” like James Bond’s Walther PPK. Nobody knew if it would pass the ban. One user suggested he simply call the Connecticut State Patrol and ask; they were always helpful.

He wrote back:

Kaynbred: I was asking out of curiosity. I always prefer asking through proxy when I can avoid speaking to someone directly. I was just wondering if anyone knew because I have a fetish for .32 ACP.

* * *

He clicked to a new tab.

YouTube.

He searched for more clips of the L.A. Fitness shooter, like the “Hiding From My Emotions” one, with him talking into the mirror. One of the top results was titled “Pittsburgh shooting caught on security cameras.”

He clicked it. It was a hoax — the footage was clearly from a movie — but it was attention-grabbing footage nonetheless: a man in a trenchcoat walks into a crowded coffee shop, pulls out a machine gun, and mows down everyone there.

He looked for the rest of the movie; it turned out to be from a 1988 low-budget film, Bloody Wednesday, which was (very, very) loosely based on the 1984 shooting at the McDonald’s in San Ysidro. As a psychological horror film, it portrays a mentally ill man who is discharged from a crowded mental hospital, and gets put up in an old abandoned hotel, where he steadily loses his grip on reality (drawing many unfavorable comparisons to The Shining).

He watched the whole thing, and it was instantly one of his favorites. He was just fascinated by the McDonald’s shooter, and he especially liked one scene in the film: a surreal moment when the main character is surrounded by muggers, reaches inside his stuffed teddy bear, and takes out a handgun.

* * *

He clicked over to another YouTube channel. A news station out of North Carolina was uploading footage from a murder trial that was in-progress there: the Orange High School shooter, who had ambushed his father at home, and yelled “Remember Columbine!” from a squad car after bungling his attack on his old high school in 2006. He was pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, so the trial consisted of going over all the details of his psyche, laying out the ultimate Columbine fanboy’s mindscape for the consideration of the jury — and YouTube.

It turned out that when the shooter was fifteen, he had experienced feelings that made him “worry that he might be a pedophile,” which “exacerbated his obsessive beliefs that he was a horrible person living in a horrible world.” He told his mother he was depressed, and asked about maybe trying psychiatric medication; she said no. He grew obsessed with school shootings while attending Orange High School, and shortly after graduation, he started working on his “MASS MURDERERS AND SCHOOL SHOOTINGS OF THE 20TH AND 21ST CENTURIES” homemade book (which, for some reason, also included photos of the man who tried to kill President Reagan.)

The Orange High School shooter had a video camera, and he had made hours of recordings in his bedroom — his own “basement tapes.” The defense played each of them for the jury, with the shooter’s VHS-distorted, wild-eyed visage projected oversized onto the courtroom wall, speaking into his camera: “I believe that I was stopped from suicide by God because I have to do another massacre… And I’m not doing it for revenge. I love that school. I’m doing it to save them. Another massacre has got to take place so we can remind the world of how evil it is.”

But the most surreal moment of the trial came when the courtroom viewed another tape, from the shooter’s road trip to Littleton. He had recorded himself from the passenger seat, his mother behind the wheel and just out of frame. The jury could hear his excitement building. “This is it! Columbine High School, it’s beautiful!” he exclaimed as the campus came into view.

His mother could be heard half-paying attention as they pulled into the parking lot — “uh huh, si…” — and as they passed underneath the library’s windows, her son pointed up at the long-ago-repaired glass facade, whispering in awe, “That’s where they were shooting from” — knowing very well it is also where they died.

The boy’s mother had hoped that this experience might somehow cure his obsession. Get Columbine out of his system. She even bought him a black trenchcoat while they were in Littleton, the same one he would wear when the day finally came. Instead of breaking the spell, as soon as they got back to North Carolina, he went to his room, and started a new section in his journal, titling the page “PROJECT COLUMBINE.”

His insanity plea didn’t work. The jury wasn’t buying any of it. Maybe he’d have ended up in a mental hospital before 1981, but instead, for shooting his father, he received a mandatory life sentence. The judge recommended he receive mental health treatment in prison.

The user at 36 Yogananda clicked back to the beginning of the trial, and watched it over again.

The Redding Roadhouse — Redding, Connecticut

The restaurant was a local institution. Family-owned, with a bar that featured live music on the weekends. Like “My Place,” but bigger. Nancy Lanza’s shiny, new, silver BMW 3 series was parked outside.

One of the guys at the bar saw her come in, and bought her a drink. And another. They hit it off. He remembers that she talked about her hobbies, which included gardening, and wine tasting. She gave him her phone number.

Nancy had been single for years, but now it was official. She signed the judgment of dissolution after an uncontested hearing on September 24, 2009. One of the divorce mediators remembers the Lanzas: there had been ten or so two-hour sessions, and both Nancy and Peter were respectful throughout. Nancy talked about their 17-year-old son a lot; despite being nearly an adult, Nancy said she “didn’t like to leave him alone.” Both parents said that they “went out of their way to accommodate him.” Lately, he had been spending most of his time in his room, and even sometimes shut the door on Nancy when she was talking to him. But she tried to spend nights at home anyway, whenever she could; after all, her leaving 36 Yogananda was just about the only way to make him even more isolated than he made himself.

Once in awhile, though, Nancy had to get out. She was a social creature. She ended up seeing the guy she met at the Redding Roadhouse on and off for the next year. They met at different restaurants in the area, or sometimes she stayed over at his place. He remembers her reminiscing about growing up in New Hampshire, and she mentioned at least once that she still had a son at home; the boyfriend never came over to 36 Yogananda, but he got the impression from Nancy that her younger son was “a quiet young man who was a strict vegetarian and who was interested in string instruments and considering enlisting in the Armed Forces.”

* * *

In other messages from this time, to family members, Nancy talked about what she claimed were her chronic health problems. She said she had finally “come to terms” with her prognosis, and was moving past it — she wasn’t in “denial,” but she didn’t want to “let this thing define me,” either. “One VERY important thing I’ve learned,” she wrote in one message, “is to keep a positive attitude and not dwell on the negative.”

Norwalk Community College

Nancy’s son signed up for one, last college course in the fall of 2009: “A+ Computer Repair” at the local community college. He wasn’t working toward any degree, and classroom time was probably minimal; A+ would serve as the formal certification of the skills he had already been using with the Tech Club, or when he secretly made upgrades to his mother’s laptop. Nancy was still talking about her son going to full-time college soon, but she knew he wasn’t ready for that yet. She still had a lot of planning to do for him first.

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

The door was closed.

There was a sub-forum on Glocktalk, called “Tech Talk,” where the users would discuss various aspects of PC repair.

Kaynbred: It seems as though the only situation in which adding RAM would increase speed is if the former amount was being completely utilized and the hard drive’s page file was being accessed. Am I just an inattentive philistine or has additional RAM in a computer which was not already deprived of it never helped any of you?

He asked a number of questions like that over the course of the summer. One time, it was about the best mouse for gaming; he had been playing shooters more than ever. Archived leader-boards show he was still playing Counter Strike online, plus a newer squad-based online shooter, Team Fortress 2.

Those were very popular titles. But his latest favorite was an anomaly: Combat Arms. Made by a Korean game company Nexon, it was retro-Counter Strike, but with some of the RPG grind of World of Warcraft bolted on: earning “loot,” leveling up characters (by military rank), tweaking costumes, and unlocking a vast arsenal of weapons.

Kaynbred signed up — “enlisted” — on September 19, 2009. He even found a team (a “clan” in FPS terms) to join. The clan was called Mg14c, and they were a “pistols only” team; with hundreds of weapons available in Combat Arms, all modeled on real-life firearms, this clan chose the smallest guns, requiring the most finesse. To win a round took teamwork, and a lot of practice.

Archives of the Mg14c clan’s forums show that the user Kaynbred joined up on November 18, 2009. Probably, he had encountered a player in a public game who was already a member, and they sent him an invite. As was customary for all new recruits, Kaynbred posted his preferred weapons load-out:

Kaynbred: Pistols in order of descending preference: Glock 23, K5, M1911, Anaconda, USP, Desert Eagle…

[for] shotguns: Saiga-20 (Once I unlock it)…

I normally prefer low-caliber weapons such as pistols and pistol-caliber carbines. I fire semi-automatically much more quickly than I am capable of aiming, so my accuracy is usually low. I enjoy being surrounded, so I’d be good cannon fodder…

The way Combat Arms was set up, users had to play under their account name — so to his clan-mates, he was always “Kaynbred.” But this was unusual; most of the games he played were launched through the program Steam, which lets the player change their display-name whenever they want.

* * *

During the fall of 2009, a user from Fairfield County, Connecticut logged into a series of Counter Strike games under the username “pedobear” — the name of an internet meme, associated with an image of a cartoon bear who is supposedly a pedophile. (As summarized by the San Francisco Chronicle, “pedobear” functioned as a “mascot of pedophilia” in troll culture, and the image had become shorthand online for “you’re being creepy.”)

The user at 36 Yogananda had several images of the cartoon bear on his hard drive. There was also a Word document, “pbear.doc” — but that file wasn’t for trolling.

When last seen playing on a particular Counter Strike server, on October 15, 2009, “pedobear” had changed his name again, to “Smiggles.”