Internet gives shooters venue for legacies
DENVER – Overwhelmed with rejection, Matthew Murray apparently found a place where he belonged: the Internet.In postings linked to him, Murray took time to say goodbye to his online “friends” in between a pair of deadly shootings at Christian institutions in Colorado on Sunday.The shootings marked another case of a disturbed person using the Internet as a place to vent rage before committing horrific crimes.Experts say the online world has become a substitute social network for the rejected and a popular venue that unfortunately gives shooters a place to leave a legacy after their deaths.”Every American teenage boy knows the rules of the game: kill one person, your life is over and you’ll be lucky to get six inches inside the state newspaper. You commit an all-time record mass murder, you get on the cover of Time magazine,” said Lt. Col. (Ret.) David Grossman, an authority in the field of roots of violence whose books, “Armed Killing” and “Armed Combat,” are required reading at West Point.Grossman said the news media and the Internet combined provide would-be killers with the same social support network the military provides soldiers heading into combat.Murray killed four people Sunday and injured five others in shootings at a missionary training center in the Denver suburb of Arvada and at the New Life Church 65 miles to the southeast in Colorado Springs.He is believed to have posted anti-Christian screeds on the Internet. In between the shootings, Murray also is believed to have left several posts on Web sites warning that he was going to kill Christians. In several postings, the author refers to a killer in the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School.One of the Columbine shooters, Eric Harris, had threatened people over the Internet before the shooting. The Columbine shootings and the postings have been seen as an unfortunate model for others thinking of similar attacks.Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus before taking his own life earlier this year, called the Columbine shooters “martyrs” in a videotape he mailed to a television news organization.Justin Patchin, a criminal justice professor at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire who has studied online aggression, said he believes the Internet appeals to mass shooters because its anonymous nature offers a venue for people to vent rage with a lesser chance of accountability.Another factor is that news organizations publicize the postings of other shooters and thus provides an online legacy after their deaths, Patchin said.”They are searching for some sort of attention or something,” Patchin said. “They don’t know where to go. It’s very easy to go online to post something.”John Davis, a Denver-area psychotherapist for at-risk youth, said the Internet provides a forum, free from judgment, that substitutes the counseling a friend might otherwise give.”It ends up creating this internal monster, where if that person can’t find people like that that he can communicate with, then he will just completely shut down in terms of society and find an underworld of people online,” he said.Brian Rohrbough, whose 15-year-old son Daniel was among the 12 students and one teacher who were killed by the Columbine shooters, said regulating the Internet would have no impact on the problem, except to remove the possibility that such postings could offer authorities an opportunity to foil the crimes before they are carried out.German police said last month that they had thwarted a plot by a pair of teens to attack their school in Cologne after classmates saw them studying pictures of the Columbine shooting and alerted their principal.”If you outlawed the Internet, these crimes would not be reduced,” Rohrbough said. “These people think they have a right to murder the innocent, and they think that the final meaning of their life is to be famous.”Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was also killed at Columbine, said Americans are reluctant to intervene.”We have people who become very angry, become disfunctional and want to take other people down with them,” Mauser said. “I kind of feel like a broken record saying it, but we are not doing much about it.”Murray’s spiritual wanderings included being baptized into the Mormon faith.Church records show that Murray, of Englewood, Colo., was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a little over a year ago, said Kim Farah, a church spokeswoman in Salt Lake City.The Deseret Morning News said Thursday that Murray stopped going to church shortly after being baptized.Five years ago, Murray was kicked out of the youth missionary program, and he subsequently blasted organized Christianity, including the New Life Church, according to Internet postings attributed to him. He sought refuge in everything from an online forum for recovering Pentecostals to an occult group.
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