68. Fading

January 13, 2012

Private Residence — Milford, Connecticut

The Patient was living with her mother again, trying to get her life back together.

She was on her laptop, and she opened Facebook; she saw that an old acquaintance was online — one of the few people on earth who might understand. She sent her friend a message, and they soon got to talking about Dr. Fox.

THE PATIENT: do you think he’ll call me?

FRIEND: I honestly don’t know. He never called me again, and [that] may be part of his… Well whatever he does. But also, since he got kicked out of his house and is living in his office and going through a divorce he might try to rope you back in.

THE PATIENT: What was the last thing he said to you? Like did he leave it off like he would contact you again “someday”

Because that’s what he said to me but so far its been over a month and i don’t know if i should keep waiting for him like this anymore its taking a toll on my mind

FRIEND: Well, what would you do if he did call you? do you want to go back to him?

THE PATIENT: i loved him as naive as that sounds. But i really dont want to go back to him after the pain he’s caused me. like, if i talked to him, i just wonder what his excuse would be for leaving me hanging like the way he left me. what the hell would he say to justify himself?

i have such a weak side for people though, like when they breakdown and melt, i breakdown and melt and feel bad for them and give them the benefit of the doubt but this time, i don’t want to break down

The Patient’s friend told her what to expect, and it was the last thing she wanted to hear: that when she herself and Dr. Fox had parted ways, she asked him if they would never see each other again, and he said, ambiguously, “At least not for a very long time.” The Patient’s friend had held out hope for months and months afterward, but that goodbye was over a year ago, “and now I swear if he tries to call me he’s gonna die.”

The Patient could have felt the world drop out from under her. A year.

THE PATIENT: it just hurts so much because he said he loved me over and over again and i never felt love like that before

and then he just slams the door in my face

but leave it open just a crack, like a tease, like a MIND FUCK

i can’t believe what he did to us

They consoled each other. The Patient said she was sorry for burdening her with all of it — but her friend, who was further along in the pain, gave her hope.

FRIEND: Keep crying for help. because thus far it’s whats keeping you going. if you need it, do it.

Finally, the Patient found the nerve to ask.

THE PATIENT: i just wanted to know, if he told you he loved you… like flat out said, i love you, or what did he say…

FRIEND: Yes. he said that. like straight up those three words.

THE PATIENT: When?

The friend said he had told her over the phone, on November 26, 2010; she remembered the date exactly, because she had just gotten home from Black Friday shopping.

The Patient compared this against her own relationship with Dr. Fox, turning back the pages of her mental diary; he had just kissed her for the first time, one month before that. He had just told her the three words.

The Patient started saying that she wanted to die.

FRIEND: no. no. stop. You’re in a very difficult place right now. I am okay. I really am. It’s very painful, but it does get better. when you get more time away from your relationship with him, it starts to fall under a different light… it will be okay.

The Patient said she was just so sad, and so devastated, she begged her friend to tell her he was lying when he said the words. “I honestly felt the same way,” she replied, “and I found out that it was all lies.”

* * *

Two weeks later, the patient’s mother was calling 9-1-1, and reporting that her daughter was suffering a “psychotic episode.” She would later recall that as the police officers came to take her daughter away, the teenager yelled out, “My doctor fucked me!” By the time they got her in the squad car, she was screaming, and crying, “Why did he leave me? Why did he leave me?”

Wooster Mountain Shooting Range — Danbury, Connecticut

The retired cop who was a regular at My Place had talked guns with Nancy Lanza before. So he wasn’t all that surprised to see her at the outdoor shooting range one day. What surprised him was that she wasn’t alone: she had her younger son with her. The one he had never met, and whom she rarely even talked about.

Nancy recognized her friend from the bar, and introduced him to her son. The ex-cop doesn’t remember if they shook hands, but he does remember that the Lanza family had two guns with them at the verdant outdoor range that day: a Glock pistol, and a Bushmaster AR-15.

Nancy brought up her friend’s police experience, and then asked him: could he maybe give her son some shooting tips?

“Sure,” he said, and he gave the thin young man in the grey hoodie “a quick lesson in controlling his breathing and proper aiming techniques,” to improve his performance with the AR-15. Nancy’s son listened respectfully, and followed the instructions well. But he never said a word.

February 28, 2012

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

The door was closed.

He was back at the Columbine forum again, this time after an absence of two full months. He complained about some more things, and added dozens of new entries to the thread “Topic for all Columbine-related movies/tv shows,” many of them extremely obscure, or containing only the vaguest reference to school shootings. (For instance, he added episode seven from season two of The Gilmore Girls to the list, noting “several references in the beginning to trench-coated loners with duffel bags.”)

Scrolling down the list of topics he’d missed, he saw a thread entitled “Anxiety and fear in American society: a history.” This topic may even have been what caused him to start posting again in the first place (with his updates to the movies/TV lists more of a sign of what he was up to while away); in it, a user was sharing his outlook on Columbine, expressing that they had come to believe it was not an isolated incident, but instead “a telling example of what the alienation, loneliness, fear, and social disintegration in American society can breed.” The user continued, “The future doesn’t look good. It will take many devoted people to help change and reshape our society in a way that somehow benefits all and harms none (sounds utopian, I know…).”

A second user had already chimed in, arguing that the original poster had it all wrong: “Fact is: school shootings are not common occasions, and have steadily decreased from their peak.” And as far as Columbine, “I see it as two teenagers who were not well in any sense of the word acting for little to no reason whatsoever.” Crazy finds a way.

The user at 36 Yogananda clicked the REPLY button. This was his field of study, and he had something to say.

Smiggles: Columbine wasn’t an isolated incident: it was the apex of a string of school shootings which began increasing [in] the early 1990s. Despite American students committing fewer school shootings in 2000-2009 than they did in 1990-1999, the rate of attempts actually increased beyond their pre-Columbine level. Columbine caused Americans to begin taking the potential for school shootings seriously, and thus many attempts which were expected to have been carried out have instead been prevented. And since 1999, there has been an increase in foreign school massacres committed in countries where, as Sabratha’s Bullet Time phrases it, there isn’t the “operational history” of Columbine.

In any event, it’s myopic to telescope on school shootings when they’ve comprised a small percentage of the larger trend of mass murders, which are carried out in all sorts of contexts; but they always occur in contexts which involve some permutation of alienation, which has been part and parcel with societal “progress”. This relationship can be seen with the Chinese mass stabbings. There were some sparse incidents throughout the 20th century, but the rate began to rise in the 1990s and erupted in the early 2000s, corresponding to China’s rapid “economic development”, culminating in the infamous spate of elementary school stabbings of 2010.

Apparently, the user who started the thread had the right idea, in Smiggles’s view; the only problem was, they weren’t taking it far enough. Their assessment had implied that reaching “utopia” might require winding the clocks back, culturally, 70 years or so; Smiggles wanted something more like 17,000 years.

He then addressed the naysayer who had commented before:

Smiggles: Thinking of this society as the default state of existence is the reason why you think that humans would be “not well” for “no reason whatsoever”. Civilization has not been present for 99% of the existence of hominids, and the only way that it’s ever sustained is by indoctrinating each new child for years on end. The “wellness” that you speak of is solely defined by a child’s submission to this process and their subsequent capacity to propagate civilization themselves. When civilization exists in a form where all forms of alienation (among many other things) are rampant, new children will end up “not well” in all sorts of ways. You don’t even have to touch a topic as cryptic as mass murder to see an indication of this: you can look at a single symptom as egregious as the proliferation of antidepressants. And look in your own life. You’ve said that you’re afflicted by unrelenting anxiety and that you’re afraid to leave your house. Do you really think that the way you feel is not symptomatic of anything other than your own inexplicable defectiveness?

At the very end, he pasted a link to the 1994 essay by John Zerzan, The Mass Psychology of Misery. Then, “Smiggles” signed out of the Columbine forum, and never came back.

* * *

Around this same time, he ejected the external hard drive from his computer’s USB port, and unplugged it from the wall’s power outlet. He wrapped the cord around the Storjet, and put it in his closet, tucked back behind some old Pokemon cartridges. The drive had some horror movie reviews he had written stored on it, along with his spreadsheet of mass murderers, and all the “11k’s” he had scraped off the internet over the years. There were some video clips of him playing Dance Dance Revolution, filmed by his friend, and some of his favorite World of Warcraft scenes. Then in one folder, labeled “Fun”, there were some photos of his car, and some he had taken of himself: posing, and (as police would later describe) “holding a rifle and shotgun and numerous magazines contained within his pockets.” In another snapshot, he posed with just the Glock, in his computer room, holding the barrel to his own head.

April 25, 2012

AMC Loews Danbury 16 Theatre — Danbury, Connecticut

He turned 20 years old on April 22nd. Three days later, he went for a drive; Nancy had given her son one of the family’s old GPS units at some point, and the data from it shows that he would mostly use it to guide him to one of two places: a Whole Foods in nearby Westport to shop for groceries, or more often, to the movie theater in Danbury. His DDR trips, to see his older friend.

On the night of the 25th, they arrived just in time to see an evening showing of the new Disney documentary that was playing there at the time, Chimpanzee. The older friend knew all about the chimp thing. “He was very specific about chimps, and not monkeys or orangutans,” he recalls. “I believe he once sent me some videos of how chimps solved problems in their own societies.” It was the same footage that he had posted to the Columbine forum, in the Travis thread (though he never mentioned any Columbine forum to his friend, or to anyone from his real life at all; they were totally separate existences.)

Another time, he brought up “how chimps were able to show more empathy to members of their group than humans were at times.” When the man eventually learned that his friend had once been diagnosed with Asperger’s, he would think back to interactions like that — and feel skeptical about the diagnosis.

“We discussed just how much of those things were in our nature and how much was learned or part of environment.” They would explore “the view of humans as glorified animals,” and wind up talking about “wild child” cases — like an inverse of Travis the Chimp, these were humans raised like animals (such as “Genie,” the girl from California whose father locked her in a room, in total isolation, from infancy to age 13, never having taught her to speak). An upbringing without any language or cultural presence at all, the two friends theorized, might actually have been a blessing.

They didn’t talk about their own childhoods much. But it came up now and then. “He told me that when he was young he looked a lot bulkier (in proportion to his height) and had fat cheeks.” His younger friend once sent him a video clip as alleged evidence of this, which showed him playing in a musical recital (placing the video sometime before the 7th grade.) The man thought the young-DDR guy looked “spaced out” in the video, but certainly not overweight. “It is difficult to tell whether or not [his] view of himself as fat when he was a child was ever a serious one…Obviously from his diet and his stature one can immediately tell that he was not fat.”

In fact, the man recalls that his friend’s malnourished appearance became a cause of concern, “because at times he did not seem to properly hydrate or really seem to maintain the diet that would [hold up] his body for all the physical activity [of DDR].” And when his younger friend eventually did stop for a drink of water, he noticed, “It was water with a certain amount of salt added to it… his tastes were peculiar and he had once mentioned that at times he would just consume the salt directly.”

His young friend never mentioned anything about being bullied. He never talked about owning guns, or going to gun ranges. In one conversation, he did indicate “that he had an interest in mass murders and serial killing,” but it didn’t sound like anything beyond what one might see in a true-crime documentary, or fictionalized in the horror movies they were both watching; lots of people were interested in that stuff.

He did mention being online a lot, though he was vague about some of the details:

He would tell me about the discussions he had on YouTube, and how he had expressed his opinion on an internet blog that pedophilia was a disease that needed to be treated and not looked at as evil, [which would] cause others to make snap judgments about him as an apologist… I recall telling him that since they were taboo subjects they were very polarizing.

When the man brought it up again later, his friend from Sandy Hook claimed he had deleted all the comments, and that it had all been “a waste of time.”

There were times when his younger friend suddenly stopped coming out to the arcade. Weeks would go by, with total radio silence. The man from New York would send an email, to check in, and eventually, he would get reply back from DDR guy, saying that he had just been “moping around.”

They were still circling around making plans to go hiking together. His younger friend also suggested that they go explore some abandoned urban areas — specifically, he mentioned an old mental hospital, somewhere near his house. “I do not recall who he said he had been to the hospital with before, it may have been one of his parents or something.”

But making plans, outside of their weekends-at-the-theater schedule, was proving difficult. Not that his younger friend was busy — apparently it was more that plans, no matter how simple, just meant another social transaction for him to navigate. Another expectation to fall short of. And meanwhile, staying inside 36 Yogananda would offer him one of the few things that eased his anxieties: certainty.

May 1, 2012

Forum on Global Violence Prevention — Washington, D.C.

Four times a year, the Institute of Medicine would hold a conference for select doctors and scientists, from a variety of fields, to collaborate on violence prevention. This time, their focus was “The Contagion of Violence” — the various speakers, and the papers they presented, all approached violence as a public health problem, from an epidemiological standpoint.

The standard-bearer for this kind of epidemiological research was a 1974 study by a Dr. Phillips of the State University of New York, which identified the “Suicide Contagion” — showing that a highly-publicized suicide often resulted in a series of copycat suicides, in the locality where the story had spread. As a result of that study, in the late 1970s, the Centers for Disease Control began issuing guidance to news outlets on how to report responsibly about suicides: off of the front page, with no smiling photos of the deceased. No detailed description of the method they chose, no photos of the location, and finally, never presenting suicide as “the inexplicable act of an otherwise healthy or high-achieving person,” as it “may encourage identification with the victim.”

At the 2012 forum on violence, one presenter argued that school shootings were spreading by a similar vector as the suicides once had, before the press had self-regulated their coverage. Unfortunately, the presenter noted, finding a solution was not going to be as easy as simply following in the footsteps of Dr. Phillips anymore — 1974 was a long time ago, and practically a different society altogether from life in 2012:

The difficulty is that electronic media is so ubiquitous; it would be difficult to design a study as Phillips did when we only had to contend with local print media. We need a consensus meeting to discuss these issues and figure out how to responsibly report on “suicides preceded by mass murders,” or the hypothesized contagion will likely continue.

As the Jokela and Virginia Tech and Norway shooters had already demonstrated, individuals could now be both the perpetrators of a high-profile crime, and their own publicists. The phenomenon was spreading, and soon there might not be any way to contain it.

May 22, 2012

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook Connecticut

At 9:09am, the GPS unit in the black Honda turned on, and logged a trip. The driver pulled out of the garage at 36 Yogananda, turned left out of the driveway, and drove down Bresson Farm Road to Bennett’s Bridge, then north, up State Route 34.

Newtown High School passed by his driver’s-side window as he proceeded north, into old-town Sandy Hook. He was following his old school bus route, from when he was a boy.

At the “T” intersection, the vehicle turned right, onto Riverside Road, and proceeded until it was practically on school property, passing slowly by the old wooden sign on the right side of the road: SANDY HOOK SCHOOL.

He kept driving, past the turn-off and the firehouse, never quite venturing up to the school itself. He continued for another half-mile into a residential area, turned around, and went back toward the intersection.

From here, a left turn would bring him back home. But instead he went straight, leaving Sandy Hook and going into Newtown proper.

The GPS pinged the black car, as it slowly drove past St. Rose of Lima, and the tiny school the driver had attended for just a fraction of the 7th grade. He stopped.

After a few seconds, he turned around, and drove back home.

Stamford, Connecticut

Peter hadn’t seen his son in almost two years. Nothing had worked. The 20-year-old hadn’t respond to emails in over half that time, and he never answered his phone even before that. In April, Peter had sent a birthday card to him in the mail, asking gently if they could see each other — nothing. And while he had no direct knowledge of his son’s social life, the last he heard, it was the same it had been since junior high: sealed up inside 36 Yogananda, playing World of Warcraft. Nancy was Peter’s only avenue inside the chamber, and she had shut him out.

For a moment, he considered just showing up one day, and ringing the doorbell up at the old house on the hill. Confront the situation head-on. But that was no good; he knew very well how fragile his son’s temperament was, and how much he loathed surprises. “It would have been a fight, the last thing I’d want to be doing,” Peter would later say.

He even considered hiring a private eye to follow his son, if he ever left the house, “to try to figure out where he was going, so I could bump into him.” But that seemed extreme. And according to Nancy, their son was doing fine now.

June 2, 2012

AMC Loews Danbury 16 Theatre — Danbury, Connecticut

Dave came into work for his weekend shift. DDR guy was there, of course. But he was playing solo again, taking up both platforms; his friend was nowhere to be seen. DDR guy seemed less social now, too — like back when he first started appearing in the arcade.

* * *

The man from New York had kept in touch with his younger friend throughout the spring, but there had been more and more quiet periods. When they re-established contact the last time, the young man in Sandy Hook told him he was “having an existential crisis.”

The friend tried to ask about whatever he was going through, but, “I don’t believe he wanted to talk about it so the topic was always dropped.”

They were both computer nerds, and had talked hardware before. His younger friend had mentioned reformatting his hard drive frequently, and generally “staying off the grid.” But recently, he had mentioned going a step further, “taking a hammer to one of his hard disks,” or something like that. The friend remembers this was in May or June of 2012 — the same time period as all the talk of an existential crisis.

When they had disputes over making plans, it often came back to those existential issues — “reconciling the knowledge that your own judgment and impression of people was always going to be subjective” — and how difficult that made it to genuinely “understand” anyone else. If it was even possible at all.

Then, sometime in June, his friend from Sandy Hook severed ties. “In the end I believe it was primarily problems with coordinating plans and then the frustration that came along with feeling like neither of us were understanding each other that ended up leading to his conclusion.”

There wasn’t much of a fight or anything; the younger friend just told him something to the effect that “it wasn’t worth the trouble to ask him to do anything,” and that he “should not expect him to participate in anymore activities with him.” He wanted to go back to just dancing alone.

* * *

A young man from Newtown, named James, was passing through the movie theater lobby that June evening, around 7pm, when he recognized the local fixture at the DDR cabinet, hopping away. Jimmy had the Facebook app on his smartphone; he tapped the icon, and started recording the virtuoso performance. Jimmy’s voice could even be heard on the clip, identifying “DDR guy” by his real name — in apparent awe.

Jimmy uploaded the clip to his own profile, with the caption “this kid is sick.” One of Jimmy’s friends commented about DDR guy: “I’ve seen him there on probably 4 different occasions…” Another friend replied: “ya he’s always there.”

* * *

One evening, DDR guy stopped dancing. Dave asked him if he was okay; he replied that he had run out of money, but, “I just don’t want to go home now.”

Feeling pity, Dave handed him twenty bucks he had found sweeping the theaters. On his way out the door for the night, Dave heard the game starting back up.

The next day, when Dave came in for his shift, his boss told him DDR guy had kept playing the game all the way until closing. He actually had to unplug the machine, just to get the guy to finally leave.

June 19, 2012

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

The door was closed.

He had left the Columbine forum months ago, but his interests remained the same. He came back to the spreadsheet, and the place where he had gathered so much of the data he had plugged into it as part of his research project, two years before: Wikipedia.

There was a particular Wikipedia user whose account name he recognized very well; he had seen it dozens of times over the years, on this shooter’s page or that, making edits — another life force, out there in the void, following the same paths, sorting through the same data. The other user had even created, and for years maintained, Wikipedia’s main “List of rampage killers.” And he or she had been there in August of 2009, too, on the “Talk” page for the L.A. Fitness shooter, where “Kaynbred” had first emerged.

Whoever it was, they were one of the few people online that might know even more about mass shootings than he did. Maybe they could appreciate his hard work.

On June 20th, a message appeared on the stranger’s “User Talk” page — Wikipedia’s equivalent of a public user-profile. The message was written by a new user, “Knavesmig,” under the subject line “Hark”:

Knavesmig: Compared to the legions of people who focus solely on serial killers, it’s almost impossible to find anyone who’s interested in mass murderers, so I thought that I might as well introduce myself. I’ve been researching this topic since 2006 and I started compiling a formal list at the beginning of 2010…

“Knavesmig” said his own list was specifically focused on “answering statistical questions,” more so than capturing every single incident. But he thanked the stranger for all the helpful information he had put on Wikipedia; Knavesmig gave a link to his spreadsheet (hosted on the file-sharing website Rapidshare) and then tried to temper expectations, likely wounded by its reception on the Columbine forum. “The whole thing really isn’t much of anything to be excited about; but if you want to see it, here it is in all its mediocrity…”

Twenty-five minutes later, Knavesmig returned, and apologized for a mistake on the spreadsheet: “What an appropriate testament to my incompetency.” He also attached a playlist of all the songs about school shootings he had bookmarked on YouTube. It was sixteen hours long, and he included a link to a zip-file he had made of it in .mp3 form, for convenience. “If my mass murderer list is useless to you, at least you might be able to enjoy some relevant songs!~”

Those were the only two Wikipedia contributions that the user “Knavesmig” ever made. He never got a reply; the other user was inactive at the time, and didn’t return to Wikipedia until 2013.

July 16, 2012

Office of Dr. Paul Fox, MD — Brookfield, Connecticut

There was an empty spot in the lobby directory, where the stone slate that had read “PAUL FOX MD” had been unmounted, and put away.

There was an empty place on Dr. Fox’s right hand, where the ring had been.

There was a blank spot at the bottom of an affidavit, one prepared by the State of Connecticut’s Department of Public Health. There was a list of 14 statements he would be acknowledging, once he signed in his name there. One loomed the largest: “I hereby voluntarily surrender my license to practice medicine in the State of Connecticut.”

It was an administrative process, nothing criminal. And the document explicitly stated that he was not admitting any wrongdoing. But still, he was finished.

The final complaint included the Patient’s sworn statement, along with one from her mother, reflecting on why she and her daughter had chosen to come forward — to willingly re-open the wounds, in order to expose the one who inflicted them. “Is it justice? I suppose, although the concept of justice becomes lost in the same way that victims of violent crime will never really known justice,” the Patient’s mother wrote. “[My daughter] was 18 at the time, just a child. She needed help. Instead, she had the horrific misfortune of being placed in the care of a predator.”

The Patient herself said that what she was doing was something bigger than just revenge: “I’m starting to realize that I must reveal the truth in order to protect other patients. I must come forward now to protect another vulnerable, hurting girl because that was just what I was myself. I was a 18-year-old, vulnerable and hurting girl when our affair started. He was 59.”

His bags were already packed.

He took up the pen, and signed his name in the blank; with that, his career in the United States was over.

The last anyone in Connecticut could remember seeing of Paul Fox, he was boarding a plane to New Zealand. And he had been in such a rush, he left most of his archived patient files behind; some of his documents were unique, too — in the simple sense that no other copies of them existed, anywhere.