66. Savage

September 11, 2011

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

The door at the top of the stairs was closed.

He was on YouTube, and had just found a “tribute” video. A common genre of user-created clip, it was really just a slideshow set to music, like the ones that routinely surface online in the wake of a celebrity death — or more controversially, a high-profile shooting. But this one was different.

He surely knew about “Travis the Chimp” already — the violent incident down in Stamford was a huge story nationwide when it happened in 2009, but especially there in Connecticut. And he had already expressed an interest in primates two years before even that, when the Yale doctor tried to explain the value of reading facial expressions — “Some primates smile when they are frightened,” he had replied. But seeing Travis in the context of a tribute video, and especially the way the other YouTube users responded to it, must have made the difference. Something clicked.

He went to the Columbine forum, and started a new thread.

SUBJECT: RIP Travis the Chimp!

Smiggles: This is among the most hilarious things I’ve seen in my life. It’s a tribute video to a chimpanzee who snapped and went on a biting spree a couple of years ago. The humor that I find in this is the way the video itself and its comments are parallel to the kind of tributes you can find on YouTube for murderers…

He copied-and-pasted some of of the comments from YouTube, showing the full range of responses:

* “This video is a homage to a MURDERER. Fucking monkey, I’m glad you’re DEAD.”

* “That’s a beautiful tribute to Travis I cried! Thanks so much for making it and sharing it. We love you Travis!”

* “The true murderer is the zanax travis was on. If that can do bad things to humans than its worse for chimps.”

* “Travis belonged to the jungle with his fellow chimps ! HE is the victim of human egotism and exploitation ! RIP in Heaven’s Jungle…”

* * *

A few days passed, and then he came back to the thread. There were no replies — but the “Views” counter showed that people were, indeed, reading what he was typing.

He added another comment, containing only a link to another YouTube video: it showed a few seconds of Travis’s owner, Sandy, when she appeared on the Today show in 2009: “How many people go crazy and kill other people?…”

Sandy had since passed away, in May of 2010. (She was buried with two urns, one under each arm: the first containing her daughter’s ashes, and in the other, Travis’s.) History was already forgetting the whole thing. But the 19-year-old at 36 Yogananda just kept thinking about them, and the events that led to the incident on Rock Rimmon Road.

* * *

He continued browsing threads on the Columbine forum, commenting on the topics of the day. He found one thread, in particular, that irritated him: someone said the lyrics to the pop song “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People were in reference to the 2007 Westroads Mall shooter from Nebraska. Smiggles replied that he hated that myth, partly because the Westroads gunman was one of his “favorites”:

Smiggles: I can’t stop thinking about how much this song annoys me. Even if it wasn’t so lame, it would still bother me that they used the name… Now one of my favorite mass shooters has been turned into a trendy stereotypical poster child of school shootings just because of his age, despite having nothing to do with the school shooter archetype… I cannot see anything which indicated that [he] had been significantly affected by (the conventional interpretation of) bullying nor peer rejection.

He kept going on ranting about the song, for pages and pages. Some of the other users had a hint as to an additional reason why it vexed him so: the person they knew only as Smiggles would often “show some interest in music, but only if it related in some way to spree killing or mass murder.” Indeed, he had compiled hours and hours of music, from many genres, into one big YouTube playlist — every song he could find that showed even a remote connection to the data in his spreadsheet. (Just like he had been doing with movies, too, in between his usual psycho-horror flicks.) So, when the shooter that this pop song supposedly referred to was misidentified, then both the shooter and the song would correlate to a completely different shooter-archetype. It made his carefully structured lists, whether mental or digital, look disorganized, and all just because people couldn’t pay attention to important details.

* * *

On October 29, a freak “autumn Nor’easter” storm hit, and dumped 13 inches of snow on Newtown. Ninety-seven percent of the town lost power, but 36 Yogananda did not (the internet user there kept right on complaining about “Pumped Up Kicks” all throughout it.) There was some damage to the pale yellow house’s roof, though; the repairs took a couple days, and Nancy told her My Place friends that she went and slept at an inn while the crew did their work, but would go back to the house during the day to stay with her son. She said he slept in the basement during those few nights.

* * *

The incident on Rock Rimmon Road was still on his mind more than anything else. He went to the “Favorite film” thread and left another YouTube URL, to a trailer for the 1986 British horror film, Link — a horror movie about a killer chimp.

Smiggles: Despite the main “chimp” being an orangutan, I wonder if Travis ever stayed up late to watch this.

The Link filmmakers had indeed used an orangutan with its hair dyed black in most of the “chimp” sequences, but a genuine chimpanzee was featured in the film’s opening, a scene that surely made the user at 36 Yogananda sit up: a college professor speaks to his class in a lecture hall, with the chimp in a cage next to him on the stage, and asks them, “What is the real difference between man and chimp?”

One student raises their hand. Hair?

The professor shakes his head. “Something more significant. A sociological difference.”

Another hand raises. Intelligence?

No, the chimp on the stage had an IQ of 85. “Well within the human norm.”

A more thoughtful answer: Man is the only species that makes war on its own kind.

Still, wrong. “It used to be fashionable to think that,” the professor nods. “It was another way we had of torturing ourselves. Except, in 1979, in Tanzania, Jane Goodall observed chimps hunting in groups: kidnapping, murdering, and even eating their own babies. And when a group of renegade males broke away from the tribe, they were pursued relentlessly, and killed one by one. How’s that for ancient tribal war?”

Finally, the film’s protagonist, from the back of the class (a young Elisabeth Shue in one of her earliest roles), provides her answer: “Civilization?

The professor looks up, and nods with pride. “Thank you.”

* * *

Later that week, he watched the 1968 Peter Bogdanovich thriller Targets. It depicted a rampaging sniper — clearly inspired by the Texas tower shooter of 1966, but also shown in one scene picking off random motorists along a California highway — and was one of the earliest films to explore the psychology of mass murderers. He found that he liked the movie, for the most part:

Smiggles: I think it’s the most pleasurable movie about a mass shooting that I’ve seen… I recommend skipping any scene which doesn’t include the [Austin sniper] clone; at best, you’ll only be missing some pretentious pseudo-philosophizing about aesthetics.

Perhaps the significance of the sub-plot went over his head: these scenes feature Boris Karloff as an aging monster-movie actor, at the end of a career not unlike Karloff’s own (being a veteran of classic horror films like The Mummy and Frankenstein.) In one scene, when his film-industry colleagues try to convince him to make a comeback, Karloff’s character brushes them off, handing one of his showbiz friends a newspaper and saying, “My kind of horror isn’t horror anymore. No one’s afraid of a painted monster.” The paper’s headline reads “Youth Kills Six in Supermarket — Honor Student Depressed.” The new American monster.

“Smiggles” asked if anyone knew of any “shooter” movies that came out in the wake of the 1974 wave that sprang from Olean. But nobody did.

* * *

There was a thread “the date of your death”, where someone had left a link to a website that was making the rounds on social media around then, one that asked you to put in some basic information about yourself, and in return you’d get an estimated date when you were supposedly due to expire. Users were sharing their respective dates.

One user commented about psychics, suggesting they would be able to know such a date with more precision. Then another user replied: “I know mine. I must be a psychic.”

The board knew what this particular user was trying to imply; it had long been a sort of sub-genre of posts on the forum, made by a certain subset of users: not just overt fanboys of the Columbine shooters — as there were plenty of those — but ones who actively sought out the label of “aspiring school shooter,” and essentially trolled the board by making it look like they were “leaking,” while just barely stopping short of any ban-worthy behavior. And the user who wrote “I must be psychic” already had a reputation as one of these. They’d been talking big for a long time. (Another iteration of this routine came when a thread set up a poll asking “What would you do if there was a shooting at your school?” They responded with something to the effect of “I’d reload.”)

The user at 36 Yogananda probably didn’t click the “death clock” link (if he did, he didn’t share the date he got), but he did click the discussion thread about it. He saw the edgelord’s comment, and saw that other users were already mocking them for it. He joined in.

Smiggles: Don’t leave us hangin’, bro! Make sure you upload your basement tapes before you pull a Travis!

This had become something of a past-time for Smiggles: goading the posers. He seemed to have a particular resentment for them, and he remembered which usernames he perceived as falling into this category, when he saw them pop up in other topics; not longer after the “death date” discussion, there was another thread, where a forum user was complaining belligerently about how the forum was in decline, and had been for years. Smiggles responded, sarcastically calling them out:

Smiggles: How about how [forum user] has been here for three years and he still hasn’t gone on a rampage? I thought he would’ve been on my catalog of mass murderers by now. [“confused” emoji]

* * *

He came back to his “Travis the Chimp” thread. He posted a Wikipedia article about another animal: a trained elephant, named “Tyke.” In the middle of a circus performance in Honolulu in 1994, Tyke trampled his trainer to death, injured several more people, and then charged out of the arena. The 8,000-pound beast ran uncontrolled through the city streets for more than 30 minutes before a hail of police gunfire ended her life.

Smiggles: I must have forgotten about Tyke because I spend most of my time thinking about primates, but I just remembered that I saw her video several years ago. The revolution transcends taxonomic order!

* * *

Downstairs, Nancy was on Gunbroker again. The latest addition to the gun safe would arrive on October 26, 2011: a Savage Arms Mark II .22 rifle. It had a bolt-action, and was chambered for little rimfire bullets, the sort meant for plinking, or hunting small game. It wasn’t the fanciest or most powerful gun at 36 Yogananda — but it was the least conspicuous. It sounded just like the ones that hunters would use out in the surrounding woods, when the season came.

The merchant who sold the rifle to Nancy left feedback for the transaction: “Good customer. Fast pay and fast email. Thank you for your business. Enjoy your Savage!”

November 2011

Kingston, New Hampshire

When Nancy arrived, the parking lot of the restaurant was packed with police cruisers: her baby brother Jimmy — Officer Champion, around Kingston — was officially retiring from the force. He wasn’t going to stop serving and protecting (he would stay on to help train the next generation of Kingston officers), but Nancy’s kid brother had nonetheless crossed a major milestone. She wasn’t about to miss the party.

Kingston’s longtime Chief of Police, and partner of “Uncle Jimmy’s” from the old days, remembers running into Nancy at the get-together that day; he hadn’t seen “Beanie” in a long time, but the girl from the farm hadn’t changed. “She was a wonderful, caring, bubbly person,” he remembers. “Heart of gold.”

Nancy came alone; the chief hadn’t seen her sons since they drove off the family plot in 1998.

* * *

Peter had written to Nancy sometime that October. Their son still hadn’t been responding to his emails, and he just wanted to know that he was okay.

Nancy wrote back, saying their youngest “has been doing very well and has become quite independent over the last year. He is starting to talk about going back to school which would be nice” — but, she said, their son had told her that he did not want to see his father anymore.

Peter wasn’t sure if he believed that. Maybe Nancy was making it up. But 36 Yogananda was a big, opaque, box, and Nancy’s word was his only view inside. He wrote back to her. “I think you should tell him that he should plan to see me once per month to do something (hike, cross country ski, shooting etc.)”

If she brought up the notion at all, it didn’t change anything. Perhaps it was no coincidence, that the fight over college credits, when Peter’s son had cut off contact, had come almost immediately after the boy turned eighteen — the point when, as the same now-adult put it to his old Combat Arms teammate, he knew he could “dismiss” anyone from his life that he wanted.

November 2011

AMC Loews Danbury 16 Theater — Danbury, Connecticut

Dave got so used to seeing “DDR guy” when he came to work, he was like part of the scenery. He was there practically every weekend, usually for Dave’s entire shift, hopping back and forth on the squares, over and over and over. Their only interaction was when DDR guy needed tokens for the machine.

One day, the pattern suddenly changed: DDR guy told Dave his real name. The name wasn’t anything unusual, but hearing him say it was a shock all unto itself.

It coincided with another intriguing development over the summer, one that Dave had observed from his post at the concession stand: DDR guy seemed to have actually made a friend.

The friend was an Asian fellow, older than DDR guy, who came to the theater regularly to watch movies in the evening — but more and more, he was seen playing DDR, right alongside the skinny kid in the grey hoodie. The new guy had even been seen talking to him — and DDR guy actually talked back.

* * *

The new friend was from New York, just over the border from Fairfield County. He remembers he found it tough to keep up with his new dance partner; the skinny kid’s stamina for the game was incredible. “One quirk was that physical exhaustion only seemed to affect him when he was really floored,” the friend would tell investigators. He noticed that when DDR guy did get exhausted, he would go to the theater’s bathroom and wipe down his face. “Whenever he came back he would use the window as a mirror and adjust his hair. From this, it seemed like he was aware of, and did pay attention to, his own appearance.”

Sometimes they danced for so long that DDR guy’s hoodie would be soaking in sweat; he would go out to his car in the parking lot — where he always kept a spare hoodie — and change out.

It started out as just playing the game together, but they did start to chat in between songs. The skinny kid mentioned his mother, and how his relationship with her was “strained,” because he felt he was “unable to communicate with her because her behavior was not rational and she was unwilling to talk about certain topics that he felt were important.”

The friend from New York was immediately aware that his new friend from Sandy Hook wasn’t quite “normal.” Neither was he. But they weren’t robots. “Emotion wasn’t something expressed in particularly verbose or grandiose fashion but it was expressed,” he said of their conversations. “He was capable of laughing, smiling, and making jokes, though always in a dry fashion.”

Sometimes, when they met at the movie theater, it was to actually watch a film. They had similar tastes:

Any sort of horror-type film we watched always had some sort of psychological aspect to it… [he] seemed to really be into these films but also not in any sadistic or strange sense. He had a wide knowledge of those films from that era of 80s to 90s b-typeish horror films… I’m not sure where this knowledge came from but it appeared to be self-cultivated. There was a real quaintness to it since these movies that he was interested in were about as old as he was, and it appealed to me because they were in a way nostalgic.

They talked about going hiking together sometime, or of visiting another arcade to play DDR. They exchanged phone numbers, and email addresses. And they would meet at the Danbury theater regularly. For the first time since elementary school — and possibly ever — the young man from 36 Yogananda had made a genuine, real-life, in-person connection with another human being.

December 7, 2011

Silver Hill Hospital — New Canaan, Connecticut

The Patient’s mother came to the psychiatric facility to visit her. She had been very worried about her daughter, even before the girl stopped seeing Dr. Fox. She had been contacting WCSU regularly, trying to get an answer as to why their supposed staff doctor wasn’t listed on their website. She wanted to know what his credentials were, and make sure he really worked there.

Finally, they told her: Dr. Fox had been fired for an “ethics violation,” months ago.

When her daughter had come home for Spring Break earlier in the year, she tried to avoid the topic of Dr. Fox entirely. She didn’t want another fight. But then, when her daughter said she was going hiking with Dr. Fox — in the remote forests around Bull Bridge in Kent — she couldn’t help but ask. “Are other students going on the hike with him too?”

“No, just the two of us.”

She kept the rest of the questions to herself. But she would later write of how, “A feeling of fear came over me… what might he do to, or with, my daughter out in the middle of the woods somewhere? My mind went to the worst case scenario where she could be left for dead and no one would ever know or be able to prove what really happened to her.”

The hospital orderlies led the woman into the dormitory, and she gave her daughter a big hug. As they talked, she again tried to avoid one subject, but her daughter eventually brought it up: she said that her new doctor at Silver Hill had advised her not to contact Dr. Fox anymore, and she had held out for a whole month — but she just had to know how if he was okay. So she had called him one day. And though their phone conversation was brief, she said that Dr. Fox told her, “I really don’t want to admit this, but I still love you.”

Shortly after, the Patient experienced what the hospital staff described as a “complete meltdown.” She was only just now starting to recover from that. She was making progress again.

Her mother comforted her, and assured her that she hadn’t done anything wrong.

The Patient started to explain to her mother some of what had happened, and how she got to where she was. But she wouldn’t tell her about what happened on the sailboat. She needed to protect Dr. Fox.

Just then, an orderly came in, with a letter addressed to the Patient. It was from Dr. Fox, and it read in part:

I know that we westerners share a collective foolishness of obsessing over the future in a most obtuse way; we believe that with future thought we can prepare and be secure. Yet this obsession tends to be a significant basis of our insecurity…

It went on like that for several paragraphs, trying to cushion the blow, but five words on the page were all the Patient could see — the thing she never, ever wanted to hear from him: “Please do not contact me.”

She went numb, “dissociative with pain and confusion.” She had been abandoned, again.

* * *

A few weeks after the visit from her mother, the Patient was back at it, seeing yet another therapist. This time at Yale. She started to tell her story again, in pieces. The therapist could tell that her new patient was still holding something back… but they made progress, and then, one day, the Patient brought in the letter that Dr. Fox had sent her. The one that broke her heart. And she said that she had heard rumors that he was involved with other patients, too.

The Yale therapist then wrote a letter of her own, to the Connecticut Department of Health. She wanted him investigated… but she knew that would only work if the Patient was willing to go on the record, against Dr. Fox. And she still loved him.

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

The door was closed.

Some users on the Columbine forum noticed that the mood of the person behind the name “Smiggles” seemed to darken significantly — even by his usual standards — as the end of 2011 approached. Gone was the sarcasm, and aloofness, replaced with overt despair. One of the first places it became evident was a thread on “Existentialism”:

Smiggles: ‘Self’ is a delusion and life cannot be anything other than suffering.

Another thread polled the forum “”Where would you live?,” supposing the user could choose any location or era:

Smiggles: Any place and any time before language infected humans.

He started his own thread.

SUBJECT: Psychopathy?

Smiggles: Serious question: Is there any distinction between the usage of ‘He had the devil in him’ and the marginally more nuanced ‘He was afflicted by psychopathy’?

Nobody had a good answer. Few even clicked the topic.

One of the longest threads on the board was “You know what I hate!?!?” — an extension to the lists that the Columbine shooters put on their AOL site over a decade before. Users would post whatever was ticking them off that day.

Smiggles: Culture. I’ve been pissed out of my mind all night thinking about it. I should have been born a chimp. I would even settle for a post-language hunter-gatherer society.

He came back a few hours later.

I spent all day ruminating over how much I hate culture. Now I’ve calmed down and am left lying on the floor, numbly perplexed over the foreign concept of loving life.

He expanded on “culture” in another of the text documents on his hard drive. His criticisms, as they so often were, were based in themes of force, and coercion:

[Culture] inflicts arbitrary prejudiced perspectives onto people. It dismisses the differences between individuals to contrive an artificial group, to which people are coerced into submission. It enables baseless bigotry between other arbitrary cultural groups and cohesion among people in the group for which there is no reason to associate.

He regarded religion with similar disdain, though here, he framed his argument around the act of taking life: “In conventional Christianity,” he wrote, “killing yourself would intuitively be desirable because you would be able to go to heaven.” The same should hold true in Buddhism, he continued, “and yet in both, suicide is arbitrarily forbidden for contrived reasons.” Even decoupled from religion, the more abstract “morality” argument still didn’t wash for him, because dying “would intuitively be moral because you would not have the capacity to commit immoral deeds, which you innately do through being alive.”

As for taking someone else’s life, there was just never any consistency. “It’s okay to kill an animal, but it’s not okay to kill a human. Killing one person to save many people is wrong, killing one person to save many people is right,” he wrote. “The common factor is that ‘immoral’ behavior is permitted to be treated with force. That’s all morality is: the application of force.”

* * *

Back on the forum, in the thread “What are you reading?”, he answered “In the Shadow of Man” — Jane Goodall’s groundbreaking 1971 book on the chimpanzees of Gombe, Tanzania. (It could well have been something he picked up in his WCSU days; Jane Goodall had close ties to the college, and the Goodall Center was just one floor up from the Introduction to Ethical Theory class he took, in White Hall.)

Finally, he went back to his “Travis the Chimp” thread:

Smiggles: Enculturing human children is already terrifying enough, but enculturing other apes is something out of the cruelest nightmare. I don’t know of anything more worthy of crying over. Rest in peace, little buddy. You’re free from the rape of civilization now.

Then, on December 10th, he had an idea.

Smiggles: I should call in on John Zerzan’s radio program about Travis. I’m really surprised that I haven’t been able to find anything he’s written or said about the incident, considering how often he brings up random acts of violence. It seems like Travis would be a poster-chimp of his philosophy.

But when the next episode of Anarchy Radio was broadcast, on December 13th, it was with a guest host. They said John Zerzan would be back the following week.

* * *

There had been a discussion about the age of consent on the forum before, and users remember “Smiggles” weighing in — being very particular about the medical definition of “pedophile,” as opposed to “ephebophile.” It was enough to earn him a reputation (even though it appears he had kept his essay on the topic mostly a secret). But then, on the morning of December 20, 2011, he cemented that reputation.

The topic was ostensibly about iPads, and video game consoles; users were arguing over whether consumer culture was something redeemable. Some said no — but made one exception, that being for literary novels.

Smiggles disagreed.

Smiggles: Literature is simply another coping mechanism for children who’ve been mindfucked by culturapists. They’re carried to other worlds in the stream of semen.

He surely knew the reaction this would engender. He might even have been seeking it out.

“Doesn’t anybody else notice that Smiggles sometimes sends huge ‘I AM A PEDOPHILE’ signals?” one user asked the board in reply. “No offense buddy but children in a semen stream? What the hell did you smoke?”

The user at 36 Yogananda didn’t write back. The 20th was a Tuesday, and he probably spent all day getting ready; just after 10:30pm, Connecticut time, he picked up the phone, and dialed a number in Oregon.