Hal­i­fax mall plotters ad­mired Columbine killers

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE -

They started send­ing on­line mes­sages to each other on Dec. 21, 2014, an in­nocu­ous on­line chat about cof­fee and cre­ative writ­ing.

But the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Lind­say Sou­van­narath and James Gam­ble quickly de­volved into a shared ad­mi­ra­tion for the Columbine killers, mass shoot­ings and a mur­der­ous con­spir­acy to go on a Valen­tine’s Day shoot­ing rampage at a Hal­i­fax mall in 2015.

The Facebook mes­sages, shared over seven weeks, were en­tered into ev­i­dence Mon­day at the sen­tenc­ing hear­ing for Sou­van­narath, who pleaded guilty to con­spir­acy to com­mit mur­der last April.

The Crown is rec­om­mend­ing a sen­tence of 20 years to life in prison, while the defence says the sen­tence should be 12 to 14 years, with credit for time served.

Nova Sco­tia Supreme Court Jus­tice Peter Rosin­ski re­served his de­ci­sion un­til Fri­day, call­ing it a “very un­usual and dif­fi­cult case.’’

When the judge asked Sou­van­narath if she would like to ad­dress the court prior to her sen­tenc­ing, the 26-year-old from the Chicago sub­urb of Geneva, Ill., said only “I de­cline.’’

Crown at­tor­ney Shauna MacDon­ald said Sou­van­narath hasn’t re­nounced her views and re­mains an on­go­ing dan­ger to the pub­lic.

“We have no ev­i­dence be­fore us that her views have changed in any way,’’ she said out­side the court­room, adding the plot came very close to be­ing car­ried out.

“The sense of safety and se­cu­rity in the com­mu­nity has been changed be­cause peo­ple now know that this can hap­pen in Hal­i­fax, and it al­most did.’’

Sou­van­narath’s co-con­spir­a­tor, 19-year-old James Gam­ble, killed him­self as po­lice tried to ar­rest him at his Hal­i­fax-area home a day be­fore the planned at­tack. Ran­dall Steven Shep­herd — a Hal­i­fax man de­scribed in court as the “cheer­leader’’ of the shoot­ing plot — was sen­tenced to a decade in prison in 2016.

The 1,205 pages of mes­sages be­tween Sou­van­narath and Gam­ble were ob­tained by the Kane County Court in Illi­nois, which or­dered Facebook to pro­duce the chat logs.

The con­ver­sa­tion ex­poses grue­some de­tails about the foiled plot to kill as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble in the food court of the Hal­i­fax Shop­ping Cen­tre and shaped much of an agreed state­ment of facts pre­sented to court Mon­day.

“They both ex­pressed en­thu­si­asm for the pain/death they were go­ing to cause,’’ the doc­u­ment said. “They both deeply de­sired to achieve in­famy and no­to­ri­ety through the mass killing of oth­ers.’’

It added: “They rev­elled in think­ing about the pain and an­guish their fam­i­lies would feel at their hor­ren­dous act. They hoped their mas­sacre would in­spire oth­ers to do the same.’’

Both Sou­van­narath and Gam­ble were un­em­ployed and lived with their par­ents.

Gam­ble had pre­vi­ously asked Shep­herd — one of his few friends — to join the plot. Shep­herd re­sisted, but helped Gam­ble pre­pare, in­clud­ing record­ing videos of where the at­tack was to oc­cur.

Dur­ing their lengthy on­line con­ver­sa­tion, Sou­van­narath and Gam­ble dis­cov­ered they both ad­mired the 1999 Columbine High School mas­sacre in Colorado in which teenagers Eric Har­ris and Dy­lan Kle­bold killed 13 peo­ple and them­selves.

Gam­ble had been con­sid­er­ing a mass killing and be­gan to fol­low Sou­van­narath’s blog, which was filled with racist and vi­o­lent ma­te­rial and sub­ti­tled “School Shooter Chic.’’

The two soon be­gan com­mu­ni­cat­ing via Facebook, ex­chang­ing sex­ual mes­sages and ex­press­ing “a shared con­nec­tion.’’

They spent about seven weeks plot­ting a plan they called “Der Un­ter­gang’’ — The Down­fall.

“Sou­van­narath and Gam­ble re­peat­edly stated that they were adopt­ing the per­sonas of Eric Har­ris and Dy­lan Kle­bold, re­spec­tively. They would of­ten re­fer to each other by the nick­names of Har­ris (Reb) and Kle­bold (VoDKa),’’ the agreed state­ment said.

“They would quote pas­sages to each other from the pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble jour­nals of Har­ris and Kle­bold.’’

They chose the mall as their tar­get to cause “mass panic.’’

The pair planned to wear masks and use a shot­gun and hunt­ing ri­fle owned by Gam­ble’s fa­ther, and be­gin the mas­sacre with Molo­tov cock­tails, it said. Af­ter the mas­sacre, they planned to kill each other.

“They be­lieved their des­tiny was to com­mit this mas­sacre,’’ ac­cord­ing to the agreed state­ment. “She com­mented that com­mit­ting a mass killing would pu­n­ish the pop­u­lar and hurt those who never un­der­stood her.’’

Gam­ble had planned to kill his par­ents be­fore the mas­sacre, and then he and Sou­van­narath, who were both vir­gins, would con­sum­mate their re­la­tion­ship.

They had planned Tum­blr posts for the day af­ter the mas­sacre, to boast about the shoot­ing.

The plot was foiled through an anony­mous, de­tailed tip to Crime Stop­pers, in­clud­ing Gam­ble’s name and the air travel plans of “an Asian fe­male, known as Lind­say.’’

Sou­van­narath has been in cus­tody since her ar­rest af­ter ar­riv­ing at the Hal­i­fax air­port on a one-way ticket from Chicago, ac­cord­ing to the agreed state­ment.

The agreed state­ment said Sou­van­narath saw her­self as racially and in­tel­lec­tu­ally su­pe­rior and “ex­pressed her be­lief that she is a sex god­dess with su­pe­rior in­tel­lect who is en­ti­tled to cull the in­fe­rior,’’ and that “racial and eth­nic re­al­i­ties must be righted through vi­o­lence.’’

It in­cludes a tran­script of her con­ver­sa­tion with an un­der­cover of­fi­cer pos­ing as a fel­low pris­oner, with her laugh­ing as she de­tailed her plot: “It was go­ing to be a Valen­tine’s Day mas­sacre.’’

The agreed state­ment also has a note found in her cell, fram­ing the plans for a mur­der plot with ro­man­tic ur­gency: “I was to be his Eric Har­ris and He (sic) would be my Dy­lan Kle­bold ... Even­tu­ally, I re­al­ized that we re­ally were Eric and Dy­lan, their minds hav­ing taken refuge in our bod­ies some­time af­ter their demise in 1997.’’

Crown lawyer MacDon­ald said the plot was “care­fully con­sid­ered’’ with “cold cal­cu­la­tion and en­thu­si­as­tic re­solve’’ for max­i­mum car­nage, pub­lic shock and no­to­ri­ety.

“The enor­mity of this crime can­not be over­stated,’’ she told the court. “The po­ten­tial loss of life was over­whelm­ing.’’

How­ever, Luke Craggs, the defence at­tor­ney for Sou­van­narath, ar­gued that while many as­pects of the con­spir­acy were planned out, there was vir­tu­ally no thought af­forded to “ac­tual con­crete lo­gis­tics.’’

“She showed up at the air­port with a half-cooked story, a one-way ticket and $33,’’ he said in court, later telling re­porters that “One of the things that de­ter­mines the length of a sen­tence is how real the risk ac­tu­ally was.’’


Lind­say Kan­tha Sou­van­narath ar­rives at provin­cial court for a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing in Hal­i­fax in this 2015 photo. Sou­van­narath pleaded guilty to con­spir­acy to com­mit mur­der last April and will be sen­tenced this week.

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