(Author’s note: The following events occurred after the first drafts of The Sheltered Storm were finished, in mid-2015 — when the story’s timeline stopped. Throughout the four years of additional research, editing, rewriting, and periodic stretches of abandoning the project that followed, events continued to unfold in the background. What follows here is not meant to be any sort of exhaustive list of the attacks that occurred in that time, but simply reflects what the author observed of the latest waves, as they passed overhead, along with developments in several of the cases related to the Sandy Hook story, and other relevant events.)
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June 15, 2015 — Charleston, SC: A 21-year-old male attacks worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church with a Glock 41 handgun, purchased legally. He flees the scene, and is later arrested. Police learn that he is a white supremacist, who had radicalized himself online. On his personal website, before the attack, he announced that it was his intention to start a race war.
July 23, 2015 — Lafayette, LA: A 56-year-old male stands up during a showing of the film Trainwreck at the Grand 16 Multiplex, and begins firing into the audience with a .40-caliber Hi-Point handgun. He then shoots himself. Authorities find a 40-page journal he left behind that describes his white supremacist beliefs, and which includes a message to the Charleston shooter: “Thank you for the wake-up call.” A review of the shooter’s psychological history reveals that in 2008, a judge had issued an order sending him to a psychiatric hospital — but for unknown reasons, he was released from the facility before a judge could formally rule on his mental competence, so he was still able to legally purchase a handgun.
July 30, 2015 — Denver, CO: A federal judge dismisses the lawsuit filed by families of the Aurora shooting victims, against the ammunition dealers that had sold thousands of bullets to the shooter. The decision to dismiss cites the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The families are forced to pay $200,000 to the ammunition company, for their attorneys’ fees.
August 25, 2015 — Moneta, VA: A disgruntled former WDBJ news reporter attacks an anchor and cameraman (two of his former colleagues) during an interview they are filming at the Bridgewater Marina near Roanoke. The attack is broadcast on live television. Later, the gunman uploads a video to Facebook, showing his first-person view of the shooting. He eventually shoots himself, in his car, after running from police. He leaves behind a “manifesto” in which he proudly states that he was “influenced” by the Virginia Tech and Columbine shooters. He describes his own emotional spiral, before concluding “and then, after the unthinkable happened in Charleston, THAT WAS IT!!!”
September 16, 2015 — Simi Valley, CA: During a televised presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Library, mass shootings are discussed. All candidates express support for the 2nd Amendment. During an exchange later in the evening, several candidates make reference to sensational claims then circulating on YouTube, that abortion provider Planned Parenthood was “selling the body parts of unborn children for profit.”
October 1, 2015 — Roseburg, OR: A 26-year-old man enters Umpqua Community College, where he was once a student, carrying six guns. He enters a classroom and begins shooting. He asks some of his victims if they “believe in god.” He exchanges fire briefly with police before taking his own life. Online, he had written about the news anchor shooter, “I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are.” He also wrote that “I long ago realized that society likes to deny people like me these things. People who are elite, people who stand with the gods,” and he named others like him: the shooters from Virginia Tech, Columbine, WDBJ, Santa Barbara, and Sandy Hook. He lived with his mother, who had written online about her son supposedly having Asperger’s disorder, and about their guns: “I keep two full mags in my Glock case. And the ARs & AKs all have loaded mags. No one will be ‘dropping’ by my house uninvited without acknowledgement.”
November 27, 2015 — Colorado Springs, CO: A 57-year-old man, wearing a homemade ballistic vest fashioned out of layers of silver coins and duct tape, enters a Planned Parenthood with a semi-automatic AK-47 rifle, and starts shooting. When police arrive, he shoots at them (and at propane tanks that he had placed in the parking lot, which do not explode). He eventually surrenders, telling the arresting officers, “No more baby parts.” He is later judged mentally incompetent to stand trial, and is confined to a state mental hospital. He purchased his weapon legally.
December 2, 2015 – San Bernardino, CA: Two terrorists — a husband and wife — attack an office building, the Inland Regional Center, where an event for employees of the state’s Environmental Health Department (of which the husband was one) was being held. Both are armed with an AR-15. (Although California’s laws were by then supposed to ban such weapons, since ARs use a detachable magazine, the two ARs in question actually were each equipped with a “bullet button,” in which the magazine release is recessed so that one can not press it “by hand,” and instead must use a simple tool, such as the tip of a bullet. This distinction made the guns legal per the wording of the California law.) The shooters are eventually killed in a shootout with police. They appeared to have been inspired by the terrorist group Al Qaeda, though they were not directly connected to any group, and were instead radicalized online.
December 18, 2015 — Manhattan, NY: Cerberus, the investment firm that owns Bushmaster as part of its Freedom Group, announces that it will not be selling its holdings in gun companies, after all. They were unable to find a buyer for the price they wanted, and the companies were still very profitable.
December 31, 2015 — Washington, DC: On New Year’s Eve, faced with a deadlocked Congress, President Obama announces his latest series of executive measures against gun violence: strengthening background checks, hiring more ATF agents to enforce existing laws, proposing a $500 million investment toward improving access to mental health care, and declaring “Smart Gun” technology a federal priority. “If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?”
February 20, 2016 — Kalamazoo, MI: A series of seemingly-random shootings scattered around the Kalamazoo area one afternoon are found to be the actions of an armed Uber driver, who is opening fire on both his fares and random pedestrians from his car, and then driving away. Once he is finally located and arrested, he tells police that he did it because a “devil figure” had appeared in the Uber app on his smartphone, and controlled him. He used two handguns in the attack, and had 14 more guns at home. He purchased all of them legally. He pleads insanity, but just when jury selection for his trial is about to begin, he changes his plea to guilty, and accepts a sentence of life in prison.
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As a direct result of the shooting, the State of Michigan introduces a new alert system — similar to the AMBER alert for missing children — that can interrupt TV and radio broadcasts and send notifications to every mobile phone in a given geographic area, to notify the public if a mass shooting is in progress.
March 12, 2016 — Dunblane, UK: As the 20th anniversary of the Dunblane shooting approaches, a father from Dunblane grants an interview to the Daily Record. The reporter asks him if he believes Sandy Hook will have a similar impact on gun laws in the US. He answers no. “Their blinkered and uncritical support of gun rights means that the problem will never go away.” He has resigned himself to the belief that “the horror at the mass killing of children and teachers, the sympathy for their families, were the same as we’d experienced. The legacy was not.”
April 21, 2016 — Portland ME: Detectives from Brookfield, Connecticut arrest a former psychologist, Paul Fox, at his home on Peaks Island. He is charged with three counts of second-degree sexual assault, as a result of “a sexual relationship with an adult patient while he was a practicing psychiatrist in Brookfield” in 2010 and 2011. He had lost his job in New Zealand in 2014, when the hospital he worked at learned that he had surrendered his license in Connecticut — and why. He eventually pleads guilty, and accepts a 7-year prison sentence (to be suspended after serving eighteen months, with good behavior.) As of this writing, Fox is incarcerated at Cheshire Correctional Institution, a few towns east of Sandy Hook. He will be required to register as sex offender upon release.
June 20, 2016 — Orlando, FL: A 29-year-old man, radicalized online, pledges allegiance to the terrorist group ISIS, and attacks Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, shortly after midnight. He is armed with a SIG Sauer MCX rifle — a variant of the AR-15 — and a Glock 17 handgun. It is the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
* * *
In the hours after the Pulse shooting, a series of gun control measures coincidentally are before the United States Senate. One bill would expand background checks, another would close the Gun Show Loophole, and another would ban gun sales to anyone on the “Terrorist Watch List.” All of the measures fail. One senator from Connecticut tells reporters, “I’m mortified by today’s vote but I’m not surprised by it. The NRA has a vice-like grip on this place.”
July 22, 2016 — Munich, Germany: An 18-year-old male is seated at a McDonald’s restaurant, waiting for people to respond to the Facebook invitations he’d sent out (from a fake profile) promising free food. After about an hour passes, with no one showing up, he draws his Glock 17 pistol, shoots a table full of teenagers, goes outside, and walks toward the nearby shopping mall, shooting pedestrians along the way. He shoots more people inside the mall, and ultimately turns the gun on himself when police confront him. After the authorities identify him and search the home where he lived with his parents, they find numerous writings obsessing over mass shootings, including a “scrapbook” of news stories. A review of his psychological history shows he had been treated for depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and spent two months in an inpatient mental health facility. He had been bullied, verbally and physically, for years, and earlier on the day of the shooting, wrote on his computer, “the bullying will be paid back today.” It was also the fifth anniversary of the attack in Norway, which the shooter was particularly fixated on. Authorities could not definitively state how he obtained the handgun he used — which appeared to have been disabled and converted into a prop for a theater production at some point, and then “reactivated” — but they believe he obtained it online.
September 28, 2016 — Townville, SC: A fourteen-year-old boy brings a handgun to his old elementary school, and opens fire on the students on the playground. He surrenders when a firefighter confronts him. He got the gun from his father’s nightstand, and shot his stepfather with it before driving to the school in the man’s truck. The shooter later tells police he had been a member of a private Instagram community dedicated to school shootings — especially Columbine, which happened before he was even born — and that the other users there had encouraged him to do it. A week before the shooting, he had posted about the Sandy Hook shooter: “I HAVE TO BEAT HIM…”
A few weeks after the attack, an object arrives from Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Washington, with Townville now the latest stop on its journey: a dreamcatcher.
October 14, 2016 — Hartford, CT: A state judge dismisses the lawsuit against Remington and other companies associated with the sale of the AR-15 used at Sandy Hook, citing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
November 8, 2016: Donald Trump is elected President of the United States.
January 20, 2017: The presidency of Barack Obama ends. No significant federal gun legislation was signed into law during his administration.
March 1, 2017: The Sandy Hook families appeal their case against Remington to the Connecticut State Supreme Court, seeking to have the lawsuit reinstated.
June 8, 2017, Eaton Township, PA: A 24-year-old male brings two (legally purchased) shotguns to his night job, stocking shelves at a grocery store. He opens fire on his co-workers, then takes his own life. After police identify him, they discover that he had been obsessed with Columbine and other mass shootings. He had been an active user of the “Super Columbine Massacre RPG Discussion Forum,” in its then-current form, and on his social media accounts, he had posted videos and journals documenting his plans in great detail, months ahead. Nobody reported it; but it’s not clear anyone was watching in the first place.
June 14, 2017 — San Francisco, CA: During a morning meeting at a UPS facility, a 38-year-old male who had been an employee there for 18 years enters the meeting room with two handguns, and opens fire on his co-workers, before taking his own life. The gunman had a DUI on his record, and so should not have been able to pass a background check, but he never took one; the two guns he used were both stolen, one from Utah and one from California, and the police are never able to determine how he came into possession of either.
Later that day — Alexandria, VA: At a baseball park just across the Potomac River from the capital, 24 congressmen (as well as others) are practicing for a charity game scheduled for the following day, when a 66-year-old man opens fire on them from behind the third-base dugout with an SKS rifle (purchased legally). The gunman exchanges fire with police, before he is killed. A congressman, an aide, a police officer, and a lobbyist are wounded, but all survive. The gunman was an unemployed man experiencing financial trouble, and he had resented President Trump’s party, and their position against raising taxes on the rich, for years.
June 30, 2017 — The Bronx, NY: A 45-year-old former doctor, who had been forced to resign from Bronx-Lebanon Hospital two years before due to sexual harassment allegations, returns to the hospital with an AM-15 (a brand of AR-15) hidden under his white lab coat. He goes up to the 16th floor nurse’s station, where he used to treat patients, and confronts a former co-worker, shouting, “Why didn’t you help me out when I was getting in trouble?” as he raises his weapon. He opens fire on doctors, nurses, and patients alike. He then takes his own life. He had purchased the gun legally; although charged with a handful of crimes over the years (each stemming from his abusive behavior toward women), he was never convicted, and so he passed a background check. It is later discovered that he had e-mailed a local newspaper just before the attack, blaming the hospital for his firing: “First, I was told it was because I always kept to myself. Then it was because of an altercation with a nurse.”
September 5, 2017 — Ivanteevka, Russia: A 15-year-old student brings an axe and an air-powered rifle to school (firearms are strictly controlled in Russia), and attacks a teacher, and several classmates. All survive. He is arrested, and an investigation finds that he had become fixated on the Columbine shootings (which occurred before he was born, on the other side of the planet) and had frequently told his classmates that he wanted to attack the school. On social media, he was a member of several groups dedicated to Columbine, and he had changed his display name to match one of the Columbine shooters.
October 1, 2017 — Las Vegas, NV: A 64-year-old gambler books a luxury suite on the 32nd floor of a golden hotel on the Las Vegas strip. The hotel staff bring his luggage up to his room, unaware that the stacks of suitcases contain fourteen AR-15 rifles — most fitted with 100-round magazines and “bump-stocks” to increase their firing rate — along with several other firearms. He waits until a music festival begins at the outdoor venue across the street, and then he knocks out the window of his hotel room with a mallet, and fires out at the packed concert crowd for about ten minutes, before taking his own life as police close in. It is the deadliest mass shooting American history. There is no known motive, but the FBI would determine that among the likely factors in the shooter’s decision were his declining mental and physical health, his “desire to die by suicide” as well as his “desire to attain a certain degree of infamy via a mass casualty attack,” and the “minimal empathy” he had displayed throughout his life.
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As a result of the Las Vegas shooting, the Trump administration announces a national ban on bump stocks, which eventually (after the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from manufacturers) goes into effect in March 2019. All of the other items used in the Las Vegas attack remain legal to sell.
November 5, 2017 — Sutherland Springs, TX: A 26-year-old male, dressed in black body armor, with a black helmet on his head and a black visor over his face, and with a well-documented history of violence, attacks the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. He is probably targeting his mother-in-law, who often worships there; he may not know that she is attending a different church on that particular day. Either way, he shoots everyone there he can. It is the worst mass shooting in Texas state history — worse than the tower sniper in ’66, worse than Luby’s in ’92. It is also the worst church shooting in American history. The gunman’s choice of weapon is a Ruger SR-556.
A former-NRA instructor named Stephen Willeford, who lived around the corner from the church, hears the shots, and responds to the scene with his own AR-15. When the shooter hears Stephen call out from the front of the church, he stops his attack, and exits to confront the man. The two exchange gunfire, and the shooter is wounded, then flees back to his car, and takes off.
Stephen looks over to a nearby intersection, and sees a man named Johnnie Langendorff, a stranger to him, stopped in a pickup truck at a red light. Stephen runs over and shouts, “That guy just shot up the church! We need to stop him.” Langendorff obliges, Stephen hops in the truck, and they race after the shooter, updating police on the phone as to their position all the way. Soon, losing blood and with police closing in, the shooter swerves off the road into a ditch, and a few seconds later, takes his own life.
The shooter had purchased his weapon at a gun store, and passed a background check — but he shouldn’t have. He had been in the Air Force and was court-martialed in 2013 for assaulting his wife and stepson. A later investigation finds that the Air Force failed to transfer any of the disqualifying information found in that investigation and conviction to the FBI, a violation of standard procedures. The 2017 investigation also finds that when the gunman was in the brig, awaiting sentencing, his commander had documented that he was “convinced” that the accused was “dangerous and likely to harm someone if released.” He also noted that the man had searched the internet for body armor, and firearms. The shooter’s psychiatric files, from his one-year sentence, note that he had multiple “homicidal and suicidal indicators.” Over the course of these and other proceedings, the 2017 report found, there were six distinct points when the Air Force fingerprinted (or should have fingerprinted) the shooter, and each time, they were required to send the prints to the FBI. But they failed to do so all six times.
In response to criticisms, however, the Pentagon counters that the dealer who sold the gun was actually at fault, too: the gunman had bought the SR-556, with a high-capacity magazine, in Texas. Such magazines were legal there, but the shooter had presented a Colorado ID. High-capacity magazines were restricted in Colorado, and the gun shop was supposed to abide by the laws of the state where the buyer was a resident. But they forgot.
November 13, 2017 — Rancho Tehama Reserve, CA: A 44-year-old man drives a stolen truck through the rural area where he lives, shooting random drivers and pedestrians with a semi-automatic “ghost rifle” (assembled from parts, with no actual model or serial number), before arriving at nearby Rancho Tehama Elementary school, a place he had no connection to at all. He is wearing a load-bearing vest stuffed with multiple high-capacity magazines, and also has two handguns (one his, the other his wife’s, both purchased legally). He tries to open the doors to the school — but the staff had heard him coming, and put the school on lockdown. He spends about six minutes riddling the outside of the school with bullets, shooting at any adults that come near the scene, and struggling repeatedly to open the door to the kindergarten, but he finally gives up, gets back in his stolen vehicle, and drives around shooting more random people in town. He crashes the truck, carjacks a sedan, and shoots more people, before police catch up to him and ram his vehicle off the road. After a brief shootout, he turns his gun on himself.
When they identify him and search his house, the police find his wife, whom he had shot the night before. The neighbors down the street are also shot dead in their homes. They had filed a restraining order against him after an incident earlier in the year, when he shot at and punched one of them, then stabbed one of their guests. He had been arrested, posted bail, and his trial was set to begin in two months. The charges meant that he was supposed to have surrendered all of his firearms. He had turned in one handgun, and said it was all he owned. And, in the words of the Tehama County Sheriff, “The justice system relies on the honor system.”
Deputies had been called to his property 21 times over the years, and his neighbors had called police to report he was still shooting on his property after he was supposed to have surrendered all of his guns. But he was not a felon (having only been charged with a felony, not yet convicted) and they did not have a warrant, so they could not search, and they never caught him in the act. “He was not law enforcement friendly,” the sheriff later explained. “He would not come to the door. You have to understand we can’t anticipate what people are going to do. We don’t have a crystal ball.”
His sister would tell the Sacramento Bee that he had “no business” owning guns, and had “struggled with mental illness throughout his life and at times had a violent temper.” In recent months, he seemed almost “possessed or demonic.” But it does not appear that he had ever been diagnosed.
December 7, 2017 — Aztec, NM: A 21-year-old male enters Aztec High School, where he was once a student, and opens fire on students and staff with a Glock 9mm handgun, which he had purchased legally the month before. He was known for wearing a trenchcoat to school, and had been suspended in 2012 for “memorializing the Columbine school shooting” by “writing a schedule of the shooting on a classroom whiteboard.” He dropped out soon after that. In the years since, he had been living with his father, and working night shifts at a local gas station. Mostly, he spent his time online, obsessing over mass shooters and playing video games (often under a username that was just the Sandy Hook shooter’s full name, or “Future Mass Shooter”). One of his online posts — something to the effect of “ “If you’re going to commit a mass shooting, does anyone know about cheap assault rifles?” — was reported to the FBI in 2016, and the bureau investigated him; he told the agents he was just trolling. They ultimately closed the case, because “the man did not have a gun and did not commit a crime.”
In other instances when he “leaked” his intentions online, the other users encouraged him. After his shooting, investigators found he had even communicated online with the 2016 Munich shooter, via Steam. Then, just before he left for the school on the morning of December 7, he had posted to a gaming forum he frequented that he was going to “hold a class hostage and go apeshit,” before turning the gun on himself. “Work sucks, school sucks, life sucks.”
January 15, 2018 — Perm, Russia: A 10th-grade student at School No. 127, in a frigid city on the eastern edge of Siberia, arrives at the campus joined by a friend, a former student there who dropped out. They go to a 4th grade classroom, draw knives, and start attacking students and teachers, then themselves. Everyone survives. The attackers are later found to have been members, on social media, of an “online community that published videos about armed attacks on schools, made reposts, and posted photographs.” These were the same communities that the axe attacker from the year before had followed, and their main focus, always, was Columbine.
January 19, 2018 — Buryatia, Russia: Four days later, still another attack in Russia, in a village in southern Siberia: this time, the attacker is a 9th grader, wearing a KMFDM shirt, and they use molotov cocktails and an axe in the course of their assault. Again, everyone survives. But the nation is rattled by the horrific week of Columbine-inspired violence; it is announced that the country’s federal internet watchdog agency, Roskomnadzor, would begin monitoring “Columbine Communities,” and legislation would be drafted that summer “banning access to web communities that promote suicide or describe various ways of committing suicide, as well as to groups that glorify perpetrators of school attacks and help their members prepare and execute similar acts of violence.”
January 23, 2018 — Benton, KY: A 15-year-old student at Marshall County High School brings a Ruger .22 handgun (obtained from his stepfather’s unlocked gun safe the night before) into the commons at his high school, and opens fire on random classmates. When he runs out of ammunition, he drops the gun and tries to blend in with the crowd of fleeing students, but he is soon identified, and arrested. He later tells police that he committed the shooting as an “experiment,” because he “wanted to see how students would respond, how police would respond, how society at large would respond to it.” When asked why he would even want to conduct such an experiment, he said “his life had no purpose and other people’s lives also had no purpose.”
February 14, 2017 — Parkland, FL: On Valentine’s Day, an Uber drops off a 19-year-old male at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As he approaches one of the large school buildings on foot, he is carrying a long, black, bag.
The school had actually done a threat assessment on him, about a year and a half before, when he was a student, but they determined he was not a threat; which was odd, because the school district’s “disciplinary referral system” noted at least 55 incidents under his name. And the threat assessment process itself was initiated because he had “threatened self-harm” right around the time of his 18th birthday. Just six months before that, an acquaintance of his family had called the Broward Sheriff’s Office to report that he had posted a picture of himself with a gun, accompanied by the caption “I am going to get this gun when I turn 18 and shoot up the school.” The image was gone when a deputy went to verify the report, though, so they just referred the report to MSD’s School Resource Officer.
The 19-year-old had dropped out shortly after the threat assessment, and soon, bought himself an AR-15.
In November 2018, just three months before the Uber dropped him off back at the school, his mother died; within weeks of that, two different friends of hers had contacted the Broward Sheriff’s Office, expressing concern that the now-orphaned teen “has weapons and wanted to joing the military to kill people,” and “might be a Columbine in the making,” and was a suicide risk. But they didn’t know where he was staying, and he hadn’t committed a crime, so the deputy didn’t do anything with the information.
There had even been a tip sent to the FBI about him, by a total stranger who just happened to see a comment from the young man on a YouTube video, saying “I’m going to be the next school shooter.” He had written the comment under his own, legal name. But the FBI only documented that they were not able to identify the person who left it, and they did not subpoena the information from Google/YouTube.
Not only that, a second person contacted the FBI about the young man, just a month before Valentine’s Day. He was another friend of the young man’s deceased mother, and told the FBI he “had become increasingly concerned about postings [he] was making on Instagram and feared he would actually follow through on threats to harm others by perpetrating a school shooting.” He provided information about the young man’s gun purchases, his anger issues, his Instagram account names and the pictures he’d posted of animal mutilations, and finally, the name, address and phone number of the family he was staying with. However, despite this detailed report — and for reasons that have yet to be explained — the FBI didn’t do anything with the information.
Theoretically, if the FBI had initiated surveillance on the young man who was just brought to their attention, they would have seen cause for concern in his internet activity during the months leading up to Valentine’s Day 2018, as later documented in search warrants:
Searched “shooting people massacre”
Accessed the song “Pumped Up Kicks”
Searched “is killing people easy”
Visited website “Psychcentral.com: Homicidal Thoughts and Urges”
Searched “reckloose (recluse)”
Visited Wikipedia article: “Red Lake Senior High School (MN)”
Viewed “Videos made by Virginia Tech shooter”
Searched “Columbine diary”
Visited website about “Columbine/Pumped Up Kicks”
Searched “How long does it take for a cop to show up at a school shooting”
He had also searched for information about the Kentucky school shooter from the month before — as well as one in Finland, from all the way back in 2009.
On his phone, he had recorded several videos of himself, talking about what he was going to do, as was later played on the news: “I live a lone life, live in seclusion and solitude. I hate everyone and everything. With the power of my AR you will all know who I am.”
* * *
The school’s staff, on Valentine’s Day 2018, don’t know about all that. They have only a tiny fraction of the full picture. However, one of the campus monitors, patrolling the campus in a golf cart that afternoon, does spot the 19-year-old, making his way to one of the school buildings. And the monitor recognizes him as “crazy boy,” the one they did the threat assessment on a year and a half before, one that made him express to the rest of the staff, “If there’s gonna be anybody who’s gonna come to this school and shoot this school up, it’s gonna be that kid.” And he knows that the same young man, who is now entering a school building, is no longer a student at MSD, having been involuntarily transferred to an alternative school one year before. The campus monitor also knows that when this teen was a student, he had been banned from carrying a backpack on campus. And he sees that the same young man is now carrying a long, black bag. But his response, at seeing and realizing all of this, is only to radio one of the other campus monitors about a “suspicious kid.” He does not pursue the young man inside the building. Neither he, nor any of the other campus monitors, are armed.
The School Resource Officer, meanwhile, is on duty on that Valentine’s Day, and he is the only armed officer on campus. The only legal gun. And at that moment, he is about 150 yards across the campus, going about his regular duties.
Stepping into the school building, the former student immediately ducks into a stairwell. As he is taking his AR-15 out of the rifle bag, along with a vest stuffed with loaded magazines, a male student happens to walk in on him. The gunman tells him “you better get out of here, something bad is about to happen.” He tells the student to run, which he does.
Back when the school was conducting a threat assessment on the gunman in 2016, they even went so far as to initiate a “Baker Act” referral for him — essentially, requesting he be evaluated for involuntary commitment to a mental institution. But like their threat assessment, the Baker Act evaluation determined the teenager was not a threat. And since there was only a referral on file, and not an actual commitment, he passed his background check.
A few seconds after dismissing the student who walked in on him, the gunman exits the stairwell, and opens fire on the students in the halls. He shoots into the classrooms (which have glass windows facing the hall where he is) and at any students or staff he comes across, as he proceeds from one floor to the next, reloading from his vest as needed. The attack lasts about five and a half minutes, from first shot to last.
Within two minutes of the first shots being fired, one of the campus monitors radios about possible “firecrackers” going off in the building, and the armed School Resource Officer responds to a spot just outside the building where the attack is still in progress. He hears the sounds coming from inside, and realizes they are gunshots. But he does not enter the building. He doesn’t even radio for a lockdown.
The police arrive a few minutes later, hearing the last gunshots just as they enter the building. But before they can reach the third floor, the gunman ducks back into a stairwell, abandons his rifle and ammo vest, and flees the scene by blending in with the waves of evacuating students (one of the students in the crowd even recognizes the shooter, and tells him, “I’m surprised you weren’t the one who did this.”) The shooter is soon arrested at a nearby mall.
* * *
The Parkland shooting re-ignites all of the smoldering debates from attacks past; some of the students who were there that day would reach national prominence when they organize a movement, March for Our Lives, to register young voters and advocate for gun reform.
But it was a big school, and the tragedy touched many lives, eliciting diverse responses. A man who lost his daughter in the attack made headlines when he got on the mic at a White House town hall, just a few days after the attack:
I am very angry that this happened. Because it keeps happening. 9/11 happened once, and they fixed everything. How many schools, how many children have to get shot? It stops here, with this administration and me. I’m not gonna sleep until it’s fixed.
He would go on to express bitter anger at the school’s administration and security teams, once the full extent of their incompetence, and cowardice, was revealed.
* * *
A month after the man-made disaster struck Parkland, one thing did change. Members of a student club at Marjory Stoneman-Douglas held a ceremony, and in attendance were representatives from Townville Elementary School. Like Marysville-Pilchuck High School had done for them, and like Sandy Hook Elementary had done before them, and Red Lake High School before them, and Columbine High School before them, they passed on the dreamcatcher to the latest community to endure the man-made disaster. The Parkland students did accept the object, ceremonially — holding onto it long enough for one second to be counted, for each of the victims lost at their school — but then, they handed it back. They asked that it end its journeys, and get a permanent home.
After some searching, Towneville found just the place: the dream catcher is now located at the National Teachers Hall of Fame in Emporia, Kansas, as part of its National Memorial to Fallen Educators.
April 3, 2018 — San Bruno, CA: At the headquarters of YouTube in Silicon Valley, a 38-year-old woman fires a handgun (purchased legally) at employees as they leave their offices at the end of the work day. She wounds several people, then takes her own life. It later turns out that she had been mentally ill for some time, posting deranged clips to the video sharing site and then attributing her low viewership to a conspiracy within the company.
April 22, 2018 — Nashville, TN: Shortly after 3:00am, a nude 29-year-old male opens fire on patrons standing outside of a Waffle House, with an AR-15 he purchased legally (despite exhibiting signs of severe mental illness for years, including paranoid delusions that pop star Taylor Swift was tapping his phone). However, that gun and three others he owned were confiscated in 2017, after he was detained for jumping a barrier at the White House, thinking he could get a meeting with the president. The guns were given to the man’s father for safe keeping; but after a few weeks, he gave them back to his son.
After the attack in the parking lot, the shooter proceeds inside the restaurant and attacks the diners there, before a brave young man named James Shaw Jr. springs from his seat, and wrestles the rifle away from him. The gunman then flees the scene, resulting in a manhunt that resolves the next afternoon, when he is arrested at his motel room — about to depart for an unknown location, carrying two more guns and a backpack full of ammunition. He is expected to plead not-guilty by reason of insanity.
April 23, 2018 — Toronto, Ontario, Canada: A promenade in Toronto’s business district is bustling with its typical, daytime pedestrian traffic, when suddenly, a van driven by a 25-year-old male mounts the curb, and charges violently through the crowds for about a mile and a half, until the vehicle becomes non-functional. Exiting the van and seeing a police officer approach him with gun drawn, the driver gestures at them with his wallet, hoping it will look like a gun, and taunting them “shoot me!” But they just arrest him instead.
The van driver had been diagnosed with Asperger’s, and had tried to join the Canadian Army, but washed out of basic training. He was known to spend most of his time online, and/or playing video games. The day before launching his attack, he had posted a message to his Facebook profile, pledging ironic-allegiance to the “supreme gentleman” behind the 2014 Santa Barbara attack, who in the years since had not quite inspired the “incel” subculture that the van driver identified with, so much as he became a mascot or meme that a population of misanthropes could rally behind. (After his arrest, the van driver describes to an interviewing homicide detective how the Santa Barbara shooter “used a gun as well as a vehicle to um, convert the life status of certain individuals to, uhm, a death status.”) Like the Santa Barbara shooter, his motivations were misogynistic, but his actual victims were just anyone who happened to be around, regardless of gender. Any member of society.
May 18, 2018 — Santa Fe, TX: A 17-year-old male student, known for wearing a black duster to school, brings a 12-gauge shotgun and revolver to his art class, and opens fire on his fellow students. According to initial reports, the gunman spares certain students, so that he “could have his story told.” Police respond, and the shooter exchanges fire with them, but is ultimately arrested.
The shooter is not a social outcast, in any traditional sense, but instead was on the school’s varsity football team (after the event, some at the school would suggest that he was the victim of bullying from adults at the school, in the form of athletic coaches.) At a press conference, the governor says that police were finding “information contained in journals on his computer, in his cellphone that said not only did he want to commit the shooting but he wanted to commit suicide after the shooting. [He] planned on doing this for some time. He advertised his intentions but somehow slipped through the cracks.”
The shooter had obtained his guns from his father’s bedroom closet; they were not secured. Haunted with guilt, his father would give multiple interviews to local press. “My son, to me, is not a criminal, he’s a victim,” he would tell one newspaper. “The kid didn’t own guns. I owned guns.”
June 28, 2018 — Annapolis, MD: A 38-year-old man barricades the rear exit of the building that houses the offices of the Capital Gazette, a local newspaper for the Washington DC area, then sets of a smoke bomb at the front entrance, where he proceeds to blast through the glass doors with 12-gauge pump shotgun (purchased legally). He shoots multiple employees inside before eventually surrendering to police.
The newspaper had published a story about the man, seven years before, reporting a court decision in which he had been found guilty of harassing an acquaintance from high school, and given probation. He had sued the newspaper for defamation, but the case was dismissed. He had reportedly sent threatening letters to the newspaper multiple times in the years since.
In the hours after the shooting, President Trump tweets about it: “I was briefed on the shooting at Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Thank you to all of the First Responders who are currently on the scene.”
Later that day, two of the survivors from the Capital Gazette give an interview to CNN. One, reporter Phil Davis, relates how they had hidden under their desks as the gunman passed by, and could hear him reload:
I was praying when he started reloading that shotgun, that there wouldn’t be more bodies. And you know what? If we’re at a position in our society, where all we can offer each other is prayers? Then… where are we? Where are we as a society? Where people die, and… that’s the end of that story.
His colleague, Selene San Felice, agrees that their moment of the public’s attention will be brief:
This is gonna be a story for… how many days? Less than a week. People will forget about us after a week. […] I reported on Pulse, when Pulse happened. I went to school in Florida. And, um, I remember being so upset, hearing about the victims who were texting their families. And um, there I was, sitting under a desk, texting my parents, telling them that I loved them. And… I just- I just don’t know what I want right now, right? But I’m gonna need more than a couple days of news coverage, and some thoughts and prayers. Because it’s… our whole lives have been shattered. And so, thanks for your prayers, but I couldn’t give a fuck about them if there’s nothing else.
No editions of the Capital Gazette are canceled or delayed as a result of the shooting.
August 26, 2018 — Jacksonville, FL: About an hour after losing a game of Madden NFL 19 in a tournament, and refusing to shake his opponent’s hand afterward, a 24-year-old male returns to the video-gaming venue Good Luck Have Fun, located inside a busy shopping center, and opens fire on the other tournament players with two semi-automatic handguns. As the tournament is still in progress, the attack ends up live-streamed on YouTube. The attack ends when the gunman takes his own life. He obtained both guns legally; although he had a history of mental illness, had been committed to mental institutions multiple times, and was prescribed anti-psychotic medications, it does not appear that he was ever involuntarily committed, and none of his stays exceeded 30 days. One of those two things would have to have happened in order for NICS to have denied his background check.
October 17, 2018 — Kerch, Crimea: An 18-year-old male attacks Kerch Polytechnic College, where he is a student. He had become fixated on Columbine, and he is dressed like the Right shooter during his attack, with “HATRED” printed across his white t-shirt. It is at least the third Columbine-inspired school shooting to have occurred in Russia in recent years, but unlike the previous ones, this gunman had been able to obtain a real shotgun, and so the results are much, much worse: he sets off bombs in the commons area, shoots at his classmates in the halls, and ultimately takes his own life in the school’s library. He bought his gun legally: he had to undergo a mental evaluation, as is required for a gun license in Russia, but the evaluation apparently detected nothing disqualifying. Later, President Vladimir Putin speaks on the attack, and the trend that led up to it: “It’s a result of globalization. On social media, on the internet, we see that there is a whole community that has been created. Everything started with the tragic events in schools in the US.” He says that young men online are “reaching out for a surrogate for heroism” and then become fixated on school shooters. “We’re not creating healthy (internet) content for young people… which leads to tragedies of this kind.”
October 27, 2018 — Pittsburgh, PA: A 46-year-old male enters the Tree of Life synagogue during morning Shabbat services, shouts “all Jews must die!”, and opens fire on the worshipers with a Colt AR-15 and three Glock pistols (all of which he purchased legally). Prior to his attack, he had posted a message on social media (using a profile with which he had already posted many anti-semetic messages) accusing Jewish organizations of “bringing in invaders” through their support of immigration reform. He concluded, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
November 2, 2018 — Tallahassee, FL: A 40-year-old male pays for a yoga class at the studio Hot Yoga Tallahassee, and after waiting for the class to start, suddenly stands up, puts on earmuffs, draws a 9mm Glock handgun, and opens fire indiscriminately on the class. The people there are mostly women, and the gunman seems to target them, but he shoots at men too. Suddenly, a man named Josh Quick jumps up, and attempts to fight the gunman with a vacuum cleaner, creating an opening for many to escape. The gunman eventually fights him off, and then, takes his own life. When identified, he is revealed to have been a former teacher, who had lost several substitute jobs due to his inappropriate behavior around female students, and over the last few years he had spent most of his time complaining about women online. He was vocal in the “incel” community, had expressed support for the 2014 Santa Barbara shooter, and once predicted that women who “abused their power” would be the cause of “the next Columbine.” He did not have any connection with the yoga studio at all, he just knew the fitness class there was likely to have young women in attendance; his first choice of target had actually been a cheerleading camp.
November 7, 2018 — Thousand Oaks, CA: A 28-year-old man enters the Borderline Bar and Grill, an establishment he had drank at before but which otherwise does not appear to have had any special significance to him, and after first throwing smoke bombs onto the small dance-floor, he opens fire on the bar patrons with a .45 Glock handgun. He had purchased the gun legally, along with the seven 30-round magazines he is carrying for it (only two of which he actually uses).
After the initial assault, and while waiting for law enforcement to arrive, he takes a moment to post an update to his Instagram:
I hope people call me insane [laugh emoji]… wouldn’t that just be a big ball of irony? Yeah… I’m insane, but the only thing you people do after these shootings is “hopes and prayers”.. or “keep you in my thoughts” …every time… and wonder why these keep happening …
He then ambushes the first responders, before taking his own life. The gunman is soon found to have been a former marine who served in Afghanistan, but witnesses claim he displayed aggression problems well before enlisting, “especially with women.” Police had been called to his home for a crisis intervention earlier in the year, and brought a mental-health specialist, who evaluated the eventual-shooter and determined that while he was “somewhat irate, acting a little irrationally,” he was not a threat, and thus there was no grounds to involuntarily commit him to a mental health facility.
January 23, 2019 — Sebring, FL: A 21-year-old male is seen pacing back-and-forth in the lobby of a branch of the Suntrust Bank, when suddenly he pulls out a 9mm handgun (purchased by him earlier that week, legally) and orders the bank’s staff, and a customer, to get on the floor. (All of them are women, which may or may not have been coincidence.) He shoots each of them, then calls 9-1-1 and confesses what he’s done, and eventually surrenders. The shooting was not part of a robbery attempt; an examination of the gunman’s background shows that he had a history of psychiatric problems, and an obsession with death and killing. He had been taken out of school and sent to a behavioral health center in 2014, after multiple witnesses reported that he was excitedly telling them about dreams he was having in which he killed his classmates at school. When he got out a month later, the center notified police, and “warned them to be prepared to respond immediately if they received any calls, because of his psychiatric issues.” In 2017, a woman complained to police that they were receiving messages from him that suggested he was “possibly thinking of suicide by cop and taking hostages.”
March 15, 2019 — Christchurch, New Zealand: A 28-year-old Australian male launches an attack against Al Noor Mosque, using an entire arsenal (which includes at least two AR-15s, and a semi-automatic shotgun). Just before, he had uploaded his anti-Islam “manifesto,” and strapped on a helmet-camera; he livestreams the massacre to Facebook in first-person. He then drives to Linwood Mosque and attacks there. He is intercepted by police and arrested on his way to a third potential target. His manifesto cites the Norway shooter as his inspiration (and also claims that he was in contact with the imprisoned gunman, whom he says gave his “blessing” for the New Zealand attack), and he expresses support for several other mass shooters, including the 2015 Charleston shooter.
The gunman had obtained all of his guns legally (though he may have made illegal modifications to them later). Within one day of the attack, the country’s Prime Minister pledges that “our gun laws will change,” and she soon introduces legislation that bans all semi-automatic weapons (except .22 rimfire rifles with magazines of ten rounds or less, or shotguns with non-detachable magazines of five rounds or less). Parliament passes the bill into law less than a month after the attack.
March 19, 2019: The Connecticut Supreme Court issues a decision on the Remington case, agreeing with the lower court’s ruling that the Sandy Hook victims could not sue under “negligent entrustment.” However, the court disagrees that the other aspect of the case – whether the marketing of the Bushmaster rifle was in voilation of Connecticut’s “Unfair Trade Practices Act” – is invalid, and thus the suit is allowed to proceed.
April 27, 2019 — Poway, CA: A 19-year-old male enters Chabad of Poway synagogue, and opens fire on worshipers with an AR-15 (purchased by him legally). It is the last day of Passover, and the service is well-attended, but his rifle apparently jams before he can load a second magazine, of which he had several in the tactical vest he was wearing. He flees the scene, calls 9-1-1, and surrenders. He had posted his intentions to the internet before the attack, expressing the same views as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, and he attempted to livestream his attack, as the New Zealand gunman had (though he apparently failed to set up the stream correctly). He cites both shooters in his “manifesto.”
April 30, 2019 — Charlotte, NC: On the last day of classes for the semester, a 22-year-old male enters a classroom at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and opens fire on the students there with a 9mm Glock handgun (which he purchased legally). He has several magazines for it in a bag with him, but only uses one, before sitting on the floor and waiting to be arrested. He was a student at the college until he dropped out earlier that year. He was known to spend most of his time on the internet, and investigators find that he was studying school shootings extensively. His motive, though, was more pedestrian: fearing that he would be unable to pay off his student loan debt, he saw a life sentence in prison as a preferable alternative. At trial, his defense team would tell the jury that the gunman “has been living with autism [and] he was isolated and unable to socialize.”
May 7, 2019 — Highlands Ranch, CO: A 16-year old and 18-year-old male bring three guns (obtained from a parent’s gun safe) to STEM School Highlands Ranch, where they were both students, and attack an English class. Students and a security guard restrain the pair, and they are arrested. The 16-year old appears to have masterminded the attack, which he tells authorities was in retaliation for harassment he’d received over his gender identity (he was born biologically female).
May 31, 2019 — Virginia Beach, VA: A 40-year-old male, who is employed by the City of Virginia Beach as an engineer, sends an e-mail to his superiors, resigning from his position due to “personal reasons.” It is only his two-weeks’ notice, and so a few hours later, he is still in the municipal center building, and his access badge still works. He goes to a break room, draws two handguns (both purchased by him legally), and opens fire on the employees there. He then works his way through the building, attacking anyone he sees. One of his guns is equipped with a suppressor, but law enforcement eventually locates him, resulting in a shootout which the gunman does not survive. The shooter had been receiving warnings over his job performance over the last year, and was recently divorced, but his motive is unknown.
July 2019: Remington petitions the United States Supreme Court to overturn Connecticut’s decision, and rule that the suit filed by the Sandy Hook families cannot proceed.
July 28, 2019 — Gilroy, CA: A 19-year-old male cuts through a security fence at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, and enters the festival grounds armed with a semi-automatic AK-47, which is equipped with a 75-round drum magazine (both of which he had purchased legally, a few weeks before). He begins shooting at random people, including children. One survivor would tell investigators that they came face-to-face with the gunman at one point, and asked him why he was doing it. The gunman replied “because I’m really angry.” Police are stationed at the event already; they respond to the scene quickly, and engage in a shootout with the attacker. He is wounded, then takes his own life.
August 3, 2019 — El Paso, TX: A 21-year-old male in walks into a Walmart store, and opens fire on shoppers with a semi-automatic AK-47 (which he had purchased legally). After stalking and shooting his victims in the store aisles for several minutes, he exits the store, and eventually surrenders to police. He lived with his parents in another Texas town, more than 600 miles away; he had driven to El Paso because it was closer to the border, and he was targeting Mexicans and Mexican-American immigrants. Before doing so, he had uploaded his “manifesto,” which stated, “In general, I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto. This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” In the prior manifesto, the New Zealand shooter had specifically cited Texas as a state that he argued was soon going to shift politically due to immigration. One witness tells reporters that the gunman “targeted people who appeared to be Hispanic, but let white and black shoppers out of the building.”
August 4, 2019 — Dayton, OH: Just 13 hours after the attack in Texas, a 24-year old male leaves the Ned Peppers Bar in a popular night-life area of Dayton, and goes to his car. He had been out drinking with his sister, and her boyfriend. He soon comes back to the area in front of the bar, now armed with a AM-15 (essentially a pistol configuration of an AR-15) which is equipped with a 100-round drum magazine. He purchased both items legally (despite apparently having juvenile violent-felony convictions, since these were expunged from his record when he became an adult). He has also put on a mask and body armor. He opens fire on people in the area outside the bar, and is killed by police within one minute of firing his first shot, as he is about to re-enter Ned Peppers. His sister is among his victims. (Authorities say it is not known if this was intentional on his part, however it has been established that he had texted with her in-between leaving the bar and his attack, and that he knew she would be at the taco stand across the street at that time. He started the attack at that location.)
August 31, 2019 — Midland-Odessa, TX: A 36-year old male, who had been fired from his job earlier that day, suddenly begins shooting at state troopers with an AR-15 when they attempt to pull him over for failing to signal a turn. He speeds away and continues shooting, this time at random pedestrians and drivers. He then hijacks a USPS truck, and continues his rampage, before being rammed by police in the parking lot of a movie theater. He is killed in the resulting shootout. An investigation finds that the shooter had been diagnosed with an undisclosed mental condition, but refused to take the medication he had been provided. He had been convicted for trespassing and evading arrest in 2002, when he tried to break into a woman’s bedroom, and in 2011, his mother told authorities that he had “threatened to end his life in a police shootout,” and the local SWAT team had even reviewed floor plans of his home as a precaution, in case they ever had to raid it. His convictions had resulted in him failing a background check when he attempted to buy a gun in 2014. However, he was later able to obtain his AR-15 by exploiting the “Gun Show Loophole,” and buying from a private seller.
* * *
November 12, 2019: The United States Supreme Court declines to take up Remington’s request to dismiss the Sandy Hook lawsuit. In doing so, the court does not make any comment on the suit’s validity, which is now permitted to go forward. As of this writing, the state trial is set for September of 2021.