Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Trey Sesler: Mr. Anime, Mass Murderer

Trey Eric Sesler was a big fan of anime, Japanese-made animated films. Living with his parents in Waller, Texas, his life seemed to have stalled, but the young man won a modest amount of Internet fame for a series of reviews he posted on YouTube as “Mr. Anime.” Though he devoted countless hours online sharing his love of the genre, he had other things on his mind.

Trey Sesler

Trey Sesler

Sesler was quietly obsessed with violence and mass murder.  In 2012, at the age of 22, he killed his family.

A Gruesome Scene

On Tuesday, March 20, 2012, a ranch house on the 1600 block of Farr in Waller, Texas, was recast as a startling crime scene. The property was a junkyard of broken glass, rifle casings and bullets, along with a number of assault rifles and handguns.

Scrawled in black marker on the front door was a message: “I will never forgive myself. I don’t know why I did this. God help me.”

Similar messages were written on or carved into multiple walls and cabinets throughout the house: “Why did I do this?” “I love my mom, dad and brother.” “God forgive me, because I cannot forgive myself.”

Police found Rhonda Wyse Sesler, 57, a journalist, dead in the garage. She’d been shot with a high-powered rifle. Her son, Mark Alan Sesler, 26, died in the bathroom of wounds from the same gun. Her husband, Lawton Ray Sesler Jr., 58, a teacher at nearby Robinson Elementary School, was shot too, found dead in the couple’s bedroom. Investigators say their bodies’ positions suggested that they had tried to escape their gunman.

The family’s second son, Trey Sesler, was missing. The Texas Rangers and a SWAT unit found him in his black Thunderbird in front of a friend’s house in Magnolia.

From his Facebook page: Trey with a rabbit

From his Facebook page: Trey with a rabbit

They brought him into the Waller County Jail and quickly got a confession. “If anyone was going to hurt them, it was going to be me,” Sesler explained.

He’d been drinking when he called his mother into the garage and shot her in the chest. Watching her die, he started having second thoughts—but he concluded that there was no turning back after killing her. He shot his brother, and that gunshot woke his father, whom he then killed. Sesler made another bloody circuit through the house, shooting each family member one more time to make sure they were dead. He also killed the family’s two cats and their dog and rabbit that night.

A Missing Act

Trey Sesler told investigators led by Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith and Waller Police Chief Phil Rehak that he had killed his family in order to spare them from what he was plotting next. He was planning to bring an assault rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition to Waller Junior High the very next morning. His goal was to kill 70 people there, and later to best himself by shooting up Waller High School’s homecoming game.

The idea was inspired by the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres. He explained that he’d been studying serial killers and mass murderers, methodically evaluating and ranking their work. He had given a lot of thought, he admitted, to figuring out what scenario could potentially rack up the highest body count. He admitted that two or three days never passed without him contemplating a large-scale violent act. He had practiced by killing pets, setting fires and shooting at empty buildings, including Waller High.

Waller high School

Waller high School, the site of Sesler's intended rampage.

Rangers later found evidence supporting Sesler’s violent claims. They collected aerial photographs that he seems to have used to compare potential locations for massacres—a strip mall and grocery store were among the sites he had considered. Police also confiscated more than half a dozen weapons and assorted ammunition from not only Sesler’s Waller home, but from the house where he was arrested in Magnolia, as well as his grandparents’ house in Hempstead, where he had lived for a time.

Before he killed his family, Sesler had only minimal—if weird—contact with local law enforcement. He once called the police to ask whether it would be legal for him to own body armor, and, only a week before the killing, he told a police operator that a bullet had just gone past him, but that he had his guns and was ready for it.

Authorities suspect Sesler had been plotting a large-scale attack for three or four years, but, as he said, “Maybe what happened was too real”—after he killed his family, the obsession disappeared, and the law caught him anyway.

A judge set his bail at $5 million. Sesler remained in jail on suicide watch, awaiting trial.

Anime Critic

After graduating from Waller High School in 2007—he hadn’t been one of the popular kids, but wasn’t friendless either—Trey Sesler took some classes at Blinn College in Brenham. At one point he lived with his grandparents while selling Google ads, he told friends. Despite a difficult relationship with his father, who demanded that his son work harder to be more like his older brother Mark (who earned a degree in business from Sam Houston State University), in 2012 Sesler was again living in his parents’ house.

From his Facebook page: 'Me with a prop gun during a movie shoot. bang'

From his Facebook page: 'Me with a prop gun during a movie shoot. bang'

By then he had started working as a pizza delivery driver, but his real focus was his YouTube channel, where he billed himself as “Mr. Anime” and commented on the genre.  At its peak, the channel had 4000 subscribers. The videos are still available online, as is the Facebook page that hosts mostly his car videos, along with a photo of Sesler posing with a gun (ominous as that looks now, it was just a prop gun that he had used in a video).

In most of the videos, especially the earlier ones, he seemed like an ordinary young man. He was self-effacing and displayed a sense of humor about himself. His review of the anime classic Cowboy Bebop was typical of his short clips.

Many of his videos show a fascination with violence, but the violence was often cartoonish or part of a fantastical narrative, as in a video in which he shot his alter ego. Later, he used his channel to demonstrate how to use special-effects make-up to mimic a gunshot wound to the head. He also tested out a 9mm rifle.  In the latter video, Sesler’s speech is muddled, and it has led viewers to speculate that he was drunk or under—or over—medicated in that episode.

Screen grab from 'Is Mr. Anime Drunk?'

Screen grab from 'Is Mr. Anime Drunk?'

Whether he was on—or needed—psychiatric medications has never been disclosed, but his videos may indeed prove to be a record of the young man’s disintegration.

A Mind Unspooled?

A number of the “Mr. Anime” videos highlighted Sesler’s heavy drinking. “Is Mr. Anime Drunk?”, for example, might be a joke displaying merely the sort of bad judgment that isn’t terribly unusual for a college-age kid. Yet somehow it inspired a commentator to write, “What’s worse is he has guns in his home.”

When Sesler posted a video announcing that he’d been in an accident but couldn’t divulge the details for legal and insurance reasons, another commentator suggested that the lacerations on Sesler’s face were inflicted by a cat that he had tried to kill.

Another video referred to health problems. There Sesler reported that he’d been suffering from shortness of breath and not sleeping; he’d been diagnosed with pneumothorax and was worried that his lungs might collapse. He sounded extremely disturbed—understandably, or maybe there was more going on.

A video announcing that he was planning a break has been picked up by some as a clue foreshadowing his dastardly acts, but many feel it’s too vague, also his final video doesn’t mesh with this theory. In that video, he announces that he has a new job in film, and that he’ll still record anime reviews.

Trey Sesler's prison photo

Trey Sesler's prison photo

More telling perhaps is “My Thoughts on NEETs,” a video he posted March 8, 2012. It’s one of the videos that shows Sesler slurring his words. Inspired by the references to the phenomenon in the manga series “Welcome to the NHK,” Sesler contemplates NEETs, or those young people not involved in employment, education, or training. Sesler says he doesn’t think that NEETs are “losers” and that he doesn’t consider himself a NEET. . . yet it sounds like he does. He wants to make a living as an anime reviewer but it’s not working out for him. And he seems upset.

It’s not just a few online commentators who seem to have thought he was a troubled young man. His great aunt told the press that she found him “peculiar.” An older neighbor told the Houston chronicle that Sesler struck him as “a strange fella,” a young man with an unhealthy fascination with guns—guns that the neighbor says he always expected would end up pointed at another human being.

Trey Sesler seems to be as disturbed as everyone else is by his crimes. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life without parole in August 2012. He says he’s relieved to be imprisoned.

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