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Warning Signs of School Shootings in Cyberspace

In the wake of the horrific aftermath by the school shooting in Florida on Valentine's Day, we are honored to share this exclusive guest blog post from award-winning author and researcher Dr. Peter Langman, author of "Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters." and "School Shooters: Understanding High School, College, and Adult Perpetrators." He provides an exclusive look at possible school shooter warning signs in Cyberspace. (originally published March 3 2018)

The Parkland Rampage Attack

In the wake of the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day, people across the nation are searching for ways to prevent another massacre. With the Parkland shooting, as with so many others, there were many warning signs that were missed, including warnings online. The perpetrator in Parkland posted, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” He also sent messages on Snapchat regarding his desire to buy a gun, and other concerning messages.

Unfortunately, though multiple people were concerned by his posts, there was no investigation and the perpetrator killed seventeen people and wounded many others.

Online Warning Signs

The use of the Internet or social media to communicate violent intentions is nothing new. Twenty years ago, Eric Harris, one of the Columbine killers, posted his fantasies and plans for violence over a year before his attack. In some cases, school shooters have been explicit in their communications, whereas in other cases there have been hints and reasons for concern, but no direct threats. Let’s take a look at a range of warning signs that have been found in cyberspace.

online cyber threats

Direct Threats

In 1998, Eric Harris wrote about his fantasies of mass violence, including blowing up downtown Denver and crashing a plane into New York City. More realistically, he announced online that he was going to get guns and kill people. Even more explicitly, Harris wrote about his plans to attack his high school:

(Note: “V” is a reference to Dylan Klebold, whose nickname was Vodka. “Crickets” were small explosives Harris and Klebold made.)

Online threats do not only occur in the United States. In Germany, in 2006, an 18-year-old named Sebastian Bosse posted a long message online. Here is an excerpt (GSS is the abbreviation for his school):

I thought about the fact that most students who humiliated me have already left GSS. I have two things to say to that: 1. I wasn’t just in one class, no, I went to the entire school. The people who are at the school are by no means innocent! Nobody is! The same program that also ran in previous years runs in their heads! I am the virus that wants to destroy these programs, it is completely irrelevant where I start. 2. A majority of my revenge will be aimed at the teaching staff, because those are people who interfered in my life against my will, and who helped to put me where I am standing now; On the battle field! Almost all these teachers are still at this damn school!

Similarly, in Finland, in 2007, Pekka-Eric Auvinen posted exact details about his plan:


Event: Jokela High School Massacre. Targets: Jokelan Lukio (High School Of Jokela), students and faculty, society, humanity, human race. Date: 11/7/2007. Attack Type: Mass murder, political terrorism (altough I choosed the school as target, my motives for the attack are political and much much deeper and therefore I don’t want this to be called only as “school shooting”). Location: Jokela, Tuusula, Finland. Perpetrator’s name: Pekka-Eric Auvinen (aka NaturalSelector89, Natural Selector, Sturmgeist89 and Sturmgeist). I also use pseydonym Eric von Auffoin internationally. Weapons: Semi-automatic .22 Sig Sauer Mosquito pistol.

When someone posts this level of details, the attack should be assumed to be imminent. Auvinen posted his attack plans on the morning of his rampage, leaving virtually no time for anyone to see the post and respond.

Long before he posted the details about his attack, however, Auvinen had been active online in other ways. He expressed his admiration for the Columbine killers and Hitler, posting numerous videos about them. He reportedly wrote about his desire to go on a rampage in the Finnish parliament. He also wrote, “A minority can never have any other effective means to influence the course of matters but through the use of violence,” and “I wish that death to mankind comes soon.”