Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Predicting Extreme Fatal Violence

Danger or No Danger?

A Long Island McDonald's customer noticed a spiral-bound notebook lying in the store's parking lot. When she glanced through the handwritten journal to identify its owner, she realized it was a disturbing and detailed account of a proposed Columbine-type plot against a high school nearby. She turned the journal over to the school's authorities, who quickly involved the police.

Two youths were soon identified: the journal's author, age fifteen and thus too young to name, and his McDonald's co-worker, seventeen-year-old Michael McDonough. Both were arrested on July 13, 2007, on conspiracy charges, perhaps thwarting a future incident of school violence. In many ways, the journal seemed an ominous depiction of things to come.

"I will start a chain of terrorism in the world," the 15-year-old had written, as reported in The Washington Post. He appeared to be the primary instigator. Recently suspended for making violent threats at school, he listed a number of targeted individuals by name, both students and staff members. He apparently hoped to make history with a crime he believed would be "perfecto." With McDonough, he aspired to "take out everyone there [at the school]" before turning a weapon on the arriving police and then himself.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold

McDonough apparently helped devise the deadly plot, planned for April 20, 2008, the ninth anniversary of the day on which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had used bombs and guns against students and teachers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. In mimicry, the two suspects hoped to use the same approach at Connetquot High in Bohemia, Suffolk County. Some two-thousand students attend the school, including the fifteen-year-old suspect. He apparently hated everyone there.

His stated reasons for the attack were similar to those expressed by many of the school shooters from the 1990s: he'd had it with what he felt was bad treatment by others. He didn't like his life or the world in general, and at the very least this act could gain him some notoriety. According to records on his computer, seized by police, he had tried several times to make online purchases of the ingredients for explosives and of several weapons, including an Uzi and an AK-47 assault rife. The police have yet to determine if he had succeeded.

Police did discover a videotape the boy had made of himself in which he angrily described the future bloodshed he envisioned. There's little doubt he was inspired by the videos that Cho had made during the Virginia Tech massacre. At that time, many commentators mentioned that Cho had made history as a mass murderer and he clearly received enormous international attention. Even then, people worried that the media's intense and graphic coverage might spark a copycat of this nature. Indeed, the fifteen-year-old's journal indicates as much: "I want to leave a mark on the world."

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