FBI, German teenager, John Cohen, mental health, Parkland, Robb Elementary, Sandy Hook, school shooter, social-media, Uvalde School District
In Connecticut: The Storm Fizzles, Part II, back in March of 2015, I wrote on the report of the Commission empaneled in Connecticut in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack. The school has long since been demolished, as Uvalde School District Officials report Robb Elementary School will be, but a few of the lessons from that report, particularly those touching on mental health issues, still apply.
From that report:
Ultimately, however, the report [Child Advocate] emphasizes that no distinct causal lines can be drawn between his experiences – even if in hindsight we can say that they reflected systems failures – or relationships and his decision to take the lives of children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School [pp. 80-81].
The report goes on to make clear two things: (1) despite essentially a lifetime of mental health treatment of many kinds, no mental health professional, including school counselors and teachers, ever thought the Sandy Hook killer an imminent threat of the kind of violence he committed, nor of any kind. (2) No mental health professional can be held accountable for any failure to predict such behavior. I made this observation:
Mental health isn’t a matter of treating people who are actually mentally ill. It’s a matter of imposing social justice and introducing society to the loving embrace of progressive government. And why do we need this embrace? Because we’re all sick. According to the report, which cites the Centers for Disease Control as source:
‘Examined through the lens of illness, the numbers are sobering. Examined through the lens of wellness, though, they are truly disheartening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ―only about 17% of U.S. adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health [p. 86].’
Good grief! No wonder those crazed peasants can’t be trusted with guns. Eighty-three percent of them have suboptimal mental health!
The Commission goes on to recommend mandatory, comprehensive mental health evaluation from birth to death, not that that sort of thing would be intrusive or totalitarian. By all means, before proceeding, take that link to Part II, and also this link to Part I to see what some “mental health professionals” have in mind for us all.
In Update 13 of this series—the SMM Uvalde archive is here—we examined the state of security at Robb Elementary School. We were, once again, reminded no one was ever in charge, no command post was ever established, no incident commander took command, and no one ever bothered to try the doors to the classrooms to see if they were unlocked. We return to the Texas State House of Representative’s interim report–available here–to examine the report’s section on the killer, whose name, as a matter of SMM policy and common sense, I will not mention.
The attacker was born in Fargo, North Dakota on May 16, 2004, the second child born to the mother, Uvalde native A.R., and her then-boyfriend, S.R. The couple split shortly after the attacker’s birth, and A.R. returned to Uvalde with the two children. The father had limited and inconsistent involvement in his children’s lives from that point onward.
One factor that seems to be present in many school attackers is a lack of a present, responsible, adult father in their upbringing. This is not a determinative matter. Most boys growing up without a strong father do not become criminals or mass murderers, but it is a noteworthy factor nonetheless.
Mother A.R. was known to several witnesses who testified before the Committee from her work as a server at local Uvalde restaurants. A.R. was involved in the attacker’s early life, but over time, her relationship with both her children became strained. A.R. struggled with a long history of drug use and other personal issues, though her only criminal history was a 2005 misdemeanor theft that ended in probation and a dismissed 2007 charge of misdemeanor family-violence assault.
The attacker and his family had some support from extended family, most notably A.R.’s mother, C.G. Testimony before the Committee portrayed C.G. as well-known and well-regarded in the Uvalde community, particularly within the local school district, from which she retired after twenty-seven years. C.G. took on the role of a maternal figure in the lives of both the attacker and his sister, especially as they grew older.
Relatives described the attacker as shy and quiet. The Committee heard testimony that he was reluctant to interact with peers because of a speech impediment. Poverty is not an unfamiliar circumstance in Uvalde—86% of the children in the school district may be economically disadvantaged. The attacker often wore the same clothing day after day.
In this paragraph, the killer sounds very much like a not insignificant number of children:
Records from the attacker’s early school years reveal varied accounts of his character and school performance. His pre-K teacher’s report described him as ‘a pleasure to have … a wonderful student … always ready to learn,’ and it praised his “hard work and positive attitude in the classroom.” Yet early assessments showed he was behind other students academically, and by third grade, school officials already had identified him as “at-risk” due to consistently poor test results. School records reveal that someone may have requested speech therapy for the attacker, and his later internet searches show he himself sought information on dyslexia. Ultimately, he received no special education services.
Coincidentally(?), the murders took place in the same classroom the killer attended in 4th grade. The report attempts to make some connection to the killer’s 4th grade experience and the attacks, but they are unconvincing. As one might expect these days, the report also attempts to build a case for a bullied killer, beginning in 4th grade.
Despite the accounts that suggest bullying of the attacker had become a concern by the fourth grade, in notes found on his phone, he described them as beginning in middle school. It is not known to the Committee whether the attacker ever shared these notes with anybody.
As one might also expect, the killer was not a solid student:
Records show the attacker had declining attendance, with more than one hundred absences annually beginning in 2018, along with failing grades and increasingly dismal performance on standardized and end-of-course exams. While Uvalde CISD “school success officers” do try to bring truant children back to school, many Uvalde students have spotty attendance, and the local judicial system reportedly does not consistently enforce truancy rules. It is unclear whether any school resource officers ever visited the home of the attacker.
Despite his absences, or perhaps because of them, the attacker had almost no disciplinary history at school. The single infraction on his school record is for ‘mutual combat’ with another student in a hallway in late 2018, resulting in a three-day suspension.
By 2021, at age seventeen, the attacker had only completed the ninth grade. On October 28, 2021, Uvalde High School involuntarily withdrew him, citing poor academic performance and lack of attendance.
Many kids drop out of school, but a vanishingly small number ever become school attackers. This footnote–#105—is disturbing:
There has been some public reference to a Uvalde High School teacher, identified in FBI investigative reports as Rhiannon Bates, who was identified by yet another teacher as having purportedly stated in the past that the attacker was the one student of whom she was afraid, and that ‘if any student was going to become a school shooter, it would be him.’ FBI San Antonio, Situational Report (May 30, 2022) (SITREP #11, final SITREP). The Committee’s investigators interviewed Ms. Bates, and she categorically denies this account, specifically denying any knowledge about the attacker. In her testimony to the Committee, Uvalde CISD administrator Dr. Becky Reinhardt confirmed that the attacker had not been one of Bates’s students, and there is no indication that she ever had any interaction with him.
It is this kind of discrepancy that continues to cause public trust in law enforcement, particularly the FBI, to decline. The report paints the killer’s last year of life as a descent into self-destruction. It notes he developed an eating disorder, would punch holes in the wall of his room after arguments with his mother, had no driver’s license or vehicle, and was supposedly “jumped” by some of his friends, causing him to try to teach himself “boxing and mixed martial arts with a punching bag in his room at home.”
In mid-2021, his relationship with the girlfriend later interviewed by the FBI ended. She described the attacker as lonely and depressed, constantly teased by friends who called him a ‘school shooter.’ She said he told her repeatedly that he wouldn’t live past eighteen, either because he would commit suicide or simply because he ‘wouldn’t live long.’ The attacker responded to the breakup by harassing the girl and her friends.
The report produces no evidence to suggest why anyone would call the killer a “school shooter,” nor are such people identified, and we are left to surmise this was merely a mocking term employed against a withdrawn and socially inept outsider. The killer began dressing in black and played common video games: “Most of his usernames and even his email address reflected themes of confrontation and revenge.”
The attacker began to demonstrate interest in gore and violent sex, watching and sometimes sharing gruesome videos and images of suicides, beheadings, accidents, and the like, as well as sending unexpected explicit messages to others online. Those with whom he played videogames reported that he became enraged when he lost. He made over-the-top threats, especially towards female players, whom he would terrorize with graphic descriptions of violence and rape.
Again, no evidence of this is provided, nor are any of the “female players” identified. There is a great deal of neophyte, hindsight driven psychoanalysis in this section:
His online interactions grew more manipulative and controlling as the year wore on, and he presented a more commanding personality online than he did in person. He pretended to a greater level of maturity than he had, searching the internet for information on sexual practices mentioned by others in conversation. The attacker wrote about his difficulty connecting to other people or feeling empathy for them; he said he was ‘not human,’ and he called others ‘humans,’ apparently intending it as an insult. Later internet usage suggests he may have wondered if he was a sociopath and sought out information on the condition. His internet research resulted in him receiving an email about obtaining psychological treatment for sociopathy.
The report does not mention from who, or what organization, that e-mail was sent, or anything about its context. The report asserts the killer became “focused on achieving notoriety.”
On Yubo, the attacker spoke enviously of publicity given to a murderer and animal abuser whose story became widely known after a Netflix documentary. In late 2021, he shared a video online that showed him driving around with ‘someone he met on the internet’ holding a clear plastic bag that contained a dead cat, which he discarded in the street and spit on while his driver laughed. The video then showed the attacker wearing a tactical plate carrier, went on to show him dryfiring BB guns at people, and ended with footage of emergency services responding to a serious car accident, which he claimed his driver had caused.
The killer got, and quickly lost, jobs at a local Whataburger and Wendy’s:
His employer fired him after a month for threatening a female coworker, and he fared similarly at his next job at Wendy’s. A coworker there described him as ‘not a good person’ and ‘troubled,’ someone who ‘put himself in a box and would not talk or associate with anyone he worked with.” An exception to that approach was when he tried discussing guns with another employee. When the other employee received the discussion negatively, the attacker challenged him to a fight. The attacker also occasionally worked with his grandfather, who had an air conditioning business and paid him in cash.
Obviously, the killer was not a well-adjusted teenager:
Living at home, the attacker had no real expenses and hoarded money, telling acquaintances that he was ‘saving for something big’ and that they would all see him in the news one day.
He apparently tried to get two people to buy guns for him though he was underage, and all refused. This paragraph comes closest to documenting what might be considered “red flags:”
Finally, the attacker developed a fascination with school shootings, of which he made no secret. His comments about them coupled with his wild threats of violence and rape earned him the nickname ‘Yubo’s school shooter’ on that platform. Those with whom he played games taunted him with a similar nickname so often that it became a running joke. Even those he personally knew in his local chat group began calling him ‘the school shooter’ after he shared pictures of himself wearing the plate carrier he’d bought and posing with a BB gun he tried to convince them was real. None of his online behavior was ever reported to law enforcement, and if it was reported by other users to any social media platform, it does not appear that actions were taken to restrict his access or to report him to authorities as a threat.
I’m sure had he expressed conservative views, social media platforms would have taken notice. The hindsight-driven, archeological, psychoanalytical tone of this section is very obvious here:
While a vague idea for a school shooting appears to have been in the attacker’s mind as early as late 2021, he began to pursue his evil plan in early 2022 after a falling-out with his mother. A blowout argument between them was livestreamed on Instagram, and several members of their family viewed it. Although sheriff’s deputies responded to a call, they made no arrests. Soon afterwards, the attacker left home and moved in with his grandmother, just blocks away from Robb Elementary School.
The killer never reconciled with his mother, and his father, who last saw him about a month before the attack, saw self-inflicted cuts on his face, and the killer “claimed he was ‘doing something’ soon.” Nothing more is said about that utterance.
The attacker had moved into his grandmother’s small home, where he had no room of his own and slept on the living-room floor. A few days before the shooting, he confided in an older cousin who was also staying there, telling her that he did not want to live anymore. After a lengthy heart-to-heart, the cousin believed she’d gotten through to him. The attacker’s uncle also recalled having similar discussions with him.
I’d like to believe if the cousin and uncle believed the killer was going to shoot up a school, they would have said something, but there is nothing further about them in the report.
As soon as the attacker turned eighteen on May 16, 2022—just one week before the shooting on May 24, 2022—he was finally able to purchase guns and ammunition. An online retailer shipped 1,740 rounds of 5.56mm 75-grain boat tail hollow point to his doorstep, at a cost of $1,761.50. He ordered a Daniel Defense DDM4 V7 (an AR-15-style rifle) for shipment to a gun store in Uvalde, at a cost of $2,054.28 (including tax and transfer fee). On May 17, 2022, he bought a Smith and Wesson M&P15 (also an AR-15-style rifle) at the same store in Uvalde, at a cost of $1,081.42. He returned the next day for 375 rounds of M193, a 5.56mm 55-grain round…
The owner of the gun store described the attacker as an ‘average customer with no ‘red flags’ or suspicious conditions’—just that he was always alone and quiet. The owner of the store remembered asking how an 18-year-old could afford such purchases (the rifles alone were over $3,000), and the attacker simply said he had saved up. Patrons of the store who saw him told a different story in FBI interviews, saying after the tragedy that the attacker was ‘very nervous looking’ and that he ‘appeared odd and looked like one of those school shooters’; another described his all-black clothing as simply giving off ‘bad vibes.’
One wonders if the FBI encouraged this kind of commentary, and/or if it was merely hindsight talking? The report notes the killer apparently had no firearm experience, and the attack may have been the first—and last—time he fired a gun.
Online interactions involving the attacker continued to foreshadow a tragedy. In March 2022, in an Instagram group conversation, a student told him that ‘people at school talk [expletive] about you and call you school shooter.’ Later, the attacker began referencing a timeline. On April 2nd, he asked in a direct message on Instagram, ‘Are you still gonna remember me in 50 something days ?’ After the answer, ‘probably not,’ he retorted with, ‘Hmm alright we’ll see in may.’ The attacker often connected those dates with doing something that would make him famous and put him ‘all over the news,’ and many of those with whom he chatted suspected his cryptic deadlines meant violence. For example, in a May 14th conversation he simply wrote ‘10 more days,’ leading to immediate speculation that he meant he’d ‘shoot up a school or something’ or commit ‘mass murder’ on that date. On May 17th, a friend told him that an acquaintance of theirs was ‘telling everyone u shooting up the school.’
Here are some text exchanges the report provided:
On the eve of the shooting, the attacker began contacting numerous people with vague but ominous messages about doing something the next day. In one Snapchat exchange with a German teenager he had befriended, he commented: ‘I got a lil secret.’ When she became curious, he told her it was ‘impossible for today’ because he was still waiting for something ‘being delivered Monday 23 by 7 pm.’ His order of 1,740 hollow points arrived later that day.
The section ends with this:
Prior to the shooting, the attacker had no criminal history and had never been arrested. He is not known to have espoused any ideology or political views of any kind. Private individuals alone knew the many warning signals.
Later in the report, we find this:
While these text messages have been circulated in media reports, those reports do not include a message deleted by the attacker’s correspondent before the screenshot was taken. Just twenty-eight seconds after the attacker informed her that he had shot his grandmother and intended to ‘shoot up’ an elementary school, the German teenager replied with a single word: ‘Cool.’
The report does not tell us whether the “German teenager” thought the killer serious, or merely running his mouth. Even if the “German teenager” thought the killer serious, we have no idea if they knew where the killer lived or was. Even if they knew to call the Uvalde Police Department and did so as quickly as possible, it’s virtually certain the police could not have stopped the killer before the attack. After shooting his grandmother, the killer stole her truck, crashed it, and quickly entered Robb Elementary, all of which took only a few minutes.
ABC News is certain about the killer:
‘He exhibited almost every warning sign,’ John Cohen, an ABC News contributor and the former acting undersecretary for intelligence and counterterrorism coordinator at the Department of Homeland Security, said in an interview. ‘This guy should have been on everybody’s radar.’
Did he? Should he?
The report does not identify anyone with who the killer corresponded, not even to explain the depth or lack thereof of their relationship, nor does it provide any details about what they may or may not have done in response to whatever alarm they may or may not have felt, though the tone of the report suggests they should have done something. For example, this report passage: “…leading to immediate speculation that he meant he’d ‘shoot up a school or something’ or commit ‘mass murder’ on that date…” is not followed by any information about who might have harbored such speculation or what they did in response to it.
According to the report, the killer never made specific threats, just vaguely worded allusions, and while he displayed photos of his guns online, and showed an interest in past mass shootings, he was apparently never specific, in terms of time, place and intended action, about anything he planned to do, not until minutes before he did it, and then, only to that “German teenager.”
The only conclusion I can draw is while the killer was odd and socially uncomfortable, unlike the Parkland killer, his behavior was not criminal, he had no prior contact with police, and apparently no one was sufficiently alarmed with his known behavior or social media commentary to call the police. Perhaps we’ll find out more when the Texas DPS completes and releases its investigation, but for the moment, the Interim Report appears to consist primarily of 20/20 hindsight.
We live in a time when boys like the killer are considered odd, but absent very specific threats, not thought worthy of any particular notice. Social media is full of odd, unconnected kids seeking attention and running their mouths, and authorities in many parts of the country actually condone and encourage anti-social, criminal behavior. California, while ever coddling criminals and the insane, and seeking to disarm the law-abiding and sane, has actually made identifying criminals and potential school attackers more difficult:
We would like to be able to think people would immediately report potential warnings like those given by the killer, but we live in an age when such “warnings,” lacking specific context and clear intent, are so common as to be part of the background noise. As some of the tweets I’ve posted in the last three articles note, school attacks are a relatively recent phenomenon. Like most people of my advancing age, I grew up in a time when schools often had shooting teams, and kids routinely brought shotguns and rifles to school, often in back window racks, in anticipation of hunting after school. Even 20 years ago, when I taught at a small, rural high school gym classes would often step out of the gym into a nearby farmer’s harvested corn field and practice skeet shooting.
I will, of course, continue to follow this case, but for the moment, the Interim Report does not make a convincing case that anyone could or should have anticipated, and done something to prevent, the attack.
Near as I can tell, the major violent attacks on schools in the US (before Columbine) began with a school bombing in Michigan in the 1940’s (?) and a gun attack elsewhere that same decade. Like you, I grew up in rural SD where rifles and shotguns were as common as textbooks both in automobiles and high school shop classes. The first ‘mass’ shooting I recall was the summer of 1966 U of Texas attack and the next was Columbine (99?). In the U of T incident, the deceased shooter was shown to have a malignant brain tumor as a possible cause for his actions, so lets drop that incident out. That leaves the question of exactly what kind of mental rot has descended on America (and other developed nations) in the years between my high school term (1970-’74) and Columbine? In just 25 or so years this mass insanity has crept out of the shadows to burden heart the nation. As for the implements, we can’t forget to factor in – at least tangentially – that several of these killers arrived at scene with tools other than firearms. I’m talking about the automobiles they drove to school or in the case of Columbine and several others incidents, edged weapons, gas canisters, and explosives of several types. My point? A diseased mind bent on death and destruction will always find a way in a free society. Interestingly, such is also documented as true in totalitarian regimes. One has only to remember that the most costly incidents of massacre and mass murder in the US had nothing to do with firearms and everything to do with trucks and fertilizer (Oklahoma City Federal Bldng) and gassed up jet airliners (9-11 attacks) which also included garden clippers. Unfortunately, always a way.
Mike McDaniel said:
Most people don’t recall the Columbine killers brought a propane cylinder, intending to kill a great many, but couldn’t ignite it. And the most deadly school attack to date was the Bath, Michigan attack in 1927, accomplished exclusively through the use of common explosives.
The other Phil said:
The Bath school bomber started the day by shooting his wife and bombing his own farm. And then he became perhaps the first suicide car bomber too, ensuring that the Principal, who was the primary object of his insanity, and who survived the initial bombing, was killed in the secondary explosion.
There have always been, and always will be, crazy people, but in the US the rejection of God and the subsequent disrespect for life really took hold in the 1970’s, including the legalization of abortion and the glorification of these mass killers.
Prozac started being sold in 1988.
“Statistical analyses conducted by two independent groups of FDA experts found a 2-fold increase of the suicidal ideation and behavior in children and adolescents, and 1.5-fold increase of suicidality in the 18–24 age group.”
Mike McDaniel said:
Nah, it can’t be that. It must be “assault weapons.”
The one thing I do not understand is how a person of the personality and behavioral problems described here, notably withdrawn, suddenly finds the wherewithal to engage in the boldness required to effect the plan.
In other words, it seems very incongruent that a troubled youth, who’s SOP is to withdraw when difficulties arise, now is able to ‘sack up’ to complete every step of the operation culminating in causing multiple fatalities.
The only way I have resolved the discrepancy is he had outside help; someone to guide him, then push him over the top.
Mike McDaniel said:
All of that is unknown. We’re still in early stages of discovery, and we can’t know if we’ll ever be allowed to learn it all.
We had a two year FBI investigation of the Las Vegas mass murder, with dozens of agents involved that, IIRC, ended in a two page report that says, ‘we know nuthin’. Not that that is suspicious or anything. But the Slim Times and the Bezos Press seemed all cool with that.
Mike McDaniel said:
Las Vegas and the FBI: A corrupt marriage.
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