Woman faces judge in mall death-spree plot

She pleaded guilty in 2017 to con­spir­acy to com­mit mur­der

The Peterborough Examiner - - Canada & World - BRETT BUN­DALE

HAL­I­FAX — High school friends re­mem­ber Lind­say Sou­van­narath as quiet, clean-cut and weird.

She wore yel­low high heels and bright lip­stick to class at her mid­dle-class high school in sub­ur­ban Chicago. She joined a role­play­ing club that brought Dun­geons & Dragons to life, liked cre­ative writ­ing and con­trib­uted to the year­book.

It wasn’t till later that Sou­van­narath em­braced a “school shooter chic” es­thetic, as de­scribed in what ap­pears to be her Tum­blr blog fea­tur­ing a pink swastika.

She be­came ob­sessed with Nazism, the Columbine shoot­ing and a plot she nick­named “Der Un­ter­gang” — a Valen­tine’s Day shoot­ing spree at a Hal­i­fax shop­ping mall, ac­cord­ing to her former friends and a state­ment of facts in the case.

It’s that plan to go on a mur­der­ous ram­page at the Hal­i­fax Shop­ping Cen­tre in 2015 that would lead to Sou­van­narath’s down­fall — and a sen­tenc­ing hear­ing that be­gins Mon­day in Nova Sco­tia Supreme Court.

Sou­van­narath pleaded guilty to con­spir­acy to com­mit mur­der last April, sev­eral months af­ter Ran­dall Steven Shep­herd was sen­tenced to a decade in jail. A third al­leged con­spir­a­tor, 19year-old James Gam­ble, was found dead in his Hal­i­fax-area home a day be­fore the planned at­tack.

Luke Craggs, Sou­van­narath’s de­fence at­tor­ney, said he is rec­om­mend­ing a sen­tence of 12 to 14 years, with credit for time served, while he said the Crown is rec­om­mend­ing 20 years to life in prison.

He said his client, now 26, de­cided to plead guilty af­ter a failed bid to have some so­cial me­dia mes­sages tossed out.

“Once the Face­book mes­sages were ruled ad­mis­si­ble, then there was no de­fence,” he said. “Once you see some of the con­ver­sa­tions between her and Mr. Gam­ble, you’ll un­der­stand why they said that.”

Lawyers for the Crown have said there were “hun­dreds of thou­sands of pages” of ev­i­dence in the case.

The con­spir­acy can be traced back to De­cem­ber 2014, when Sou­van­narath and Gam­ble be­gan an on­line re­la­tion­ship, ex­chang­ing ex­plicit in­ti­mate pho­to­graphs and a fas­ci­na­tion with mass shoot­ings, a state­ment of facts in the Shep­herd case said.

The two be­gan plot­ting an at­tack. They talked about weapons, am­mu­ni­tion, clothes, the num­ber of dead, “whether they would taunt the vic­tims,” and whether to up­load pictures to the in­ter­net as the mas­sacre un­folded, the doc­u­ment said.

The two picked the Hal­i­fax Shop­ping Cen­tre be­cause it meant “mass panic,” it said. They would start at the food court, which they thought would give them the best cover, us­ing guns owned by Gam­ble’s fa­ther as well as a knife, the state­ment said.

The mas­sacre was to end with their own sui­cides.

Shep­herd wasn’t part of these con­ver­sa­tions, but he knew what they were plan­ning, and of­fered to pro­vide bot­tles for Molo­tov cock­tails. He planned to kill him­self be­fore the at­tack.

Sou­van­narath left her home in Geneva, Ill., on Feb 13, 2015, and flew to Hal­i­fax on a one-way ticket, al­legedly car­ry­ing her “death out­fit” and books on se­rial killers in her lug­gage.

But the plan be­gan to fall apart be­fore she landed in Nova Sco­tia.

Act­ing on a tip, po­lice sur­rounded Gam­ble’s home out­side Hal­i­fax. He agreed over the phone to come out­side, but in­stead shot him­self in the head.

Mean­while, Shep­herd went to the air­port on a city bus to meet Sou­van­narath, but was ar­rested while wait­ing.

Of­fi­cers also sent on­line photos of Sou­van­narath to bor­der agents at the Hal­i­fax air­port, in­struct­ing them to de­tain any­one match­ing her de­scrip­tion ar­riv­ing on a flight from Chicago via New York.

When Sou­van­narath ar­rived, she was de­tained by the Canada Bor­der Ser­vices Agency.

The ar­rests made in­ter­na­tional head­lines and shocked Nova Sco­tians. The spec­tre of shoot­ers open­ing fire in the food court of a pop­u­lar mall threat­ened thou­sands of shop­pers and work­ers and un­set­tled the city for months.

One judge noted that it was dif­fi­cult to imag­ine a crime more dam­ag­ing to a com­mu­nity’s sense of peace and se­cu­rity, while a Crown lawyer said the “hor­ri­ble plan would have changed the face of Hal­i­fax for­ever.”

As po­lice in Hal­i­fax in­ves­ti­gated the con­spir­acy, of­fi­cers in Illi­nois were called upon to search Sou­van­narath’s sub­ur­ban two-storey home.

“They asked us to con­duct a search war­rant for her house,” Geneva Po­lice Depart­ment Cmdr. Julie Nash said. “We re­trieved some com­put­ers, elec­tronic de­vices and things like that.”

She added that Sou­van­narath was not known to local po­lice.

Yet her ar­rest didn’t come as a sur­prise to a hand­ful of high school friends.

“When we heard the news that she got ar­rested at the air­port for what she was plan­ning on do­ing, none of us were sur­prised,” Sab­rina Szigeti, a former friend, said from Aurora, Ill.

In high school, she said Sou­van­narath dis­played a “creepy” in­ter­est in Nazis.

“I met Lind­say in the role play­ing club in my high school,” Szigeti said. “We played Dun­geons & Dragons and that sort of thing.”

She said Sou­van­narath made other stu­dents un­com­fort­able when she in­sisted on play­ing a Nazi ghost.

“Most of us would play gen­tle giants and elves,” she said. “It was re­ally weird.”

Szigeti said there were other clues she was trou­bled, such as com­ments she made that “stupid people de­served to die.”

“She was in my writ­ing club and her writ­ing was so vi­o­lent and gory and vis­ceral,” she said.

How­ever, Szigeti said she was “very quiet in class” and that “none of the teach­ers could have known” how dis­turbed she was when she grad­u­ated in 2010.

A spokesper­son for Coe Col­lege, a lib­eral arts col­lege in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, con­firmed that Sou­van­narath en­rolled as a stu­dent in the fall of 2010 and grad­u­ated in 2014 with a bach­e­lor of arts in English and cre­ative writ­ing.

Five days have been set aside for the sen­tenc­ing hear­ing.

AN­DREW VAUGHAN THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Lind­say Sou­van­narath in July 2015. Her sen­tenc­ing hear­ing starts Mon­day in Nova Sco­tia Supreme Court.

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