Art by Joseph Mendoza
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece are not a reflection of the views of Paw Prints Weekly as a whole. Paw Prints Weekly celebrates a diverse audience and staff, and it supports the declaration of the duties and rights of a Journalist per the U.S. Constitution. Paw Prints Weekly does not support the promotion of violence in any form.
“Do you ever just want to go back to ‘99, find Dylan Klebold, and just hug him?”
More likely than not, you have not.
In fact, many may not even immediately recognize the name Dylan Klebold, typically paired with that of Eric Harris. Instead, the two are known as the perpetrators of the devastating Columbine High School shooting that occurred in 1999.
As Internet usage has expanded over the past decade, it has subsequently provided an outlet for young people to express their love for just about anything: celebrities, television shows, movies—and, in a far more dangerous and unexplored vein, mass murderers.
In a society currently rife with tragic mass shootings, this disturbing trend of idolizing murderers—even going so far as to emulate their crimes—indicates the true vulnerability of today’s young people.
Unbeknownst to most, a quick search on social media sites like Tumblr will reveal a horde of true crime blogs. For the most part, the owners of these pages are simply interested in the forensics of various well-known crimes. Unfortunately, there is also a plethora of bloggers who worship and romanticize murderers like the Columbine shooters.
At a glance, the edits and art made by those who take part in what has been deemed a “mass shooter fan club” are seemingly harmless. Often, bloggers appear to bear no ill intent in posting pictures of Dylann Roof adorned with hearts and flower crowns. In these photos, he looks like just another subject of teenage admiration. In truth, Roof is the infamous Charleston church shooter of 2015, during which he killed nine African Americans in an act of white supremacy.
To these impressionable fans, the young men who commit these types of crimes are simply misunderstood. They stand by the argument that is perpetuated by the media: mass shooters are victims of bullying, mentally ill and seeking attention through violence. They express their sympathy for mass shooters by putting them on a pedestal and proclaiming that perhaps, if they had been shown love, they would have never resorted to harming people.
Evidently, the way that the media provides explanations for these men’s actions has greatly influenced how they are perceived by young people. By refusing to portray these people as criminals and truly hold them accountable for their crimes, the media has inadvertently created poster-boys for those that share the same harmful ideologies. This is both dangerous and irresponsible.
For instance, in 2015, 19-year-old James Gamble and Illinois woman Lindsay Souvannarath took their idolization of mass murderers far beyond sympathy. They had met online through a shared obsession with Columbine, and the neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideas of many mass shooters. The two plotted a Valentine’s Day massacre that, luckily, fell through. Gamble committed suicide after police were notified of the plan to shoot up the Halifax Shopping Center in Canada. However, Gamble and Souvannarath are just one example of the dangers of a mass murder-loving subculture.
Overall, there is a broad range of fans that worship mass shooters. While not all intend to carry out acts of violence, they all contribute to the problem. Young people struggling with mental illnesses see well-loved mass murderers online and begin to view them as role models, driving more young adults to create their own blogs sending the same messages. It is a vicious cycle that can only be broken if the media chooses to reform their portrayal of mass shooters. Once these individuals are no longer given a convenient excuse for their actions such as mental health issues, others who are struggling may begin to look towards more positive resources for assistance—instead of wanting to date a convicted murderer.