School massacres are now so common that many are largely ignored by the national media. As terrible as it is that the world has become almost accustomed to people murdering children in their schools, the silver lining is that the fame shooters fantasize about is likewise diminished. It has been stripped away by the increasing frequency of the tragedies themselves.
Perpetrating a massacre has become an option, a way out, a means of expression for those filled with rage and sadness. But fortunately, there are also massacres that never happened. Sometimes it was sheer luck, a keen eye, or even second thoughts by a would-be shooter coming to his senses at the very last second.
In October 1992, Arthur McElroy walked into his science class at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a rifle. The only thing that prevented him from murdering everyone inside was that his gun jammed before he could get off his first shot. Undeterred, McElroy spent the next several minutes trying to get the gun to work, while his classmates sprinted out of the lecture hall around him.
When McElroy finally gave up on what would have been one of the first school mass shootings in modern times, he tried to leave through a secondary exit. He was soon arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder, though he was found innocent after being deemed insane. McElroy was diagnosed with persecutory delusional disorder (and possibly other conditions) and sent to a psychiatric hospital, where he remained until 2015, when he was released.
Although McElroy was judged to be just as mentally ill as he was at the time of the shooting, multiple chronic diseases have left him so physically weak that he was deemed unable to be a threat to anyone. He was moved to a nursing home and requires constant care.
In 2001, Al Deguzman had an elaborate plan. For two years, he’d been plotting a mass murder at DeAnza College. He built sophisticated bombs to be secreted away inside the school and then detonated during lunchtime to inflict maximum casualties. His own room was filled with explosives, rifles, and a shotgun, as well as a recorded message both detailing his plans and apologizing for the intended murders.
But after all this careful planning, what stopped him and prevented what could have been one of the worst mass murders in US history was a sharp-eyed drugstore clerk. Deguzman took photos of himself with his arsenal and had them developed at a local drugstore. The clerk responsible for developing the photos grew immediately concerned about the weapons and called the police. When Deguzman returned to collect his photos, the clerk kept him busy until police arrived to arrest him.
Investigators later found that Deguzman had displayed few outward signs of wanting to carry out a mass murder. He had been the editor of his high school newspaper and was considered a mild-mannered young man. The only hints that something might have been wrong were his anti-government beliefs and subscription to anarchist mailing lists.
When people in Elmira, New York, talked about Jeremy Getman, they said they had the feeling something was off. Parents didn’t want their children being friends with the young man who liked firecrackers just a little too much. Getman usually kept to his own group of friends, but when he passed a note to a girl in class on Valentine’s Day 2001, its contents made her suspicious enough to give it to a teacher. The teacher saw a possible threat to the school and made the administration aware. Police were called and met Jeremy in the cafeteria, where they found him with two loaded guns and a duffel bag.
Jeremy had stolen his father’s guns and had made several homemade explosives. Fortunately, he surrendered when approached by the officers. He was arrested and went to trial, where he showed remorse for what he had planned to do. Gertman said that he didn’t go through with the murders because he realized that he didn’t want to kill innocent people. He had been suffering from severe depression after being bullied but knew that what he’d done was wrong. He even said that he deserved to be punished. He was sentenced to eight years, and while in prison, he continued his education and received a GED. Authorities said he was a model inmate, and he was released a year early.
Josh Magee of Malcolm, Nebraska, always had an interest in weapons. His other interest was the Columbine massacre, and students and faculty reported that he would sometimes talk to his classmates about it. Although he’d joined the cross-country team and was showing a talent for music, his teachers were watching him closely when he also started talking about making explosives.
Some reports say that it was one eagle-eyed staff member who saw Magee swigging liquor in the school parking lot who prevented another massacre like the one Magee was so obsessed with. Others say Magee changed his mind at the last moment and told the principal about his plan himself. Either way, in March 2004, police found a rifle, ammunition, and several explosives that Magee had been planning to use in his school. He’d written a note that said he planned to hurt everyone at school save a few of his friends.
Magee was charged with attempted first-degree murder, but after a three-day trial, he was found not guilty due to psychiatric tests indicating him to be severely mentally ill. He received help for nine years until he’d made enough progress to be moved to a residential program for those with severe mental illnesses.
In 2013, Michael Piggin was arrested by Leicestershire police for threatening a group of teenagers with a knife. But it was after the arrest that police searched his room and became aware of his long-standing plans for a massacre. Piggins said it was only a fantasy world he created to escape the pain of being bullied. Prosecutors claimed differently and tried him on terrorism charges for plotting to execute a Columbine-style attack on his former school.
Police discovered Nazi memorabilia, newspaper articles about mass murders, and terrorist cookbooks along with his plans. He’d made petrol and pipe bombs. He was involved in the right-wing English Defence League and recorded rants about protecting his home country from Islam. But Piggin was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, and the social problems caused by his condition made him both a target for bullies and socially withdrawn. He said that he’d been bullied and had become depressed, and his interest in weapons was a way to deal with a difficult time in his life.
Piggins was charged with several crimes, including plotting terrorism. While he did plead guilty to lesser charges, he defended himself by saying that he was innocent—of terrorism at least—and that he never actually planned on carrying out the attacks. There were two trials on the terrorism charges, and both ended in the juries not being able to reach a verdict. Regardless of whether his plot was something he planned to carry out or just an escapist fantasy, he was detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act.
Natalie Carpenter lived in a Connecticut group home for people with mental health issues along with her friend Peter Thulin. They idolized the Columbine shooters, who were, to them, “heroes.” Carpenter even said she felt like she “knew” them. Her manifesto, seized by police in 2014, talked about how she had been bullied at school just like the Columbine shooters and how she believed they might not have committed their crimes if someone had just told them that they were loved.
Carpenter wanted to go back to her old high school and “show the bullies the consequences of their actions.” She had a history of erratic behavior and was already on the police’s radar. At the time she’d been planning the attack, she had not been taking her medication.
Although Carpenter was critical of some shooters, ones who attacked “innocent” targets like elementary school students, she and Thulin would watch YouTube videos of the Columbine killers and dream of being “famous” like they were. Carpenter had just been waiting on papers to confirm her US citizenship so that she could purchase a shotgun from Walmart. (She had been adopted from Lithuania.) But fortunately, all she and Peter could obtain was a large knife, which police found when they arrested them. Their obsession with the two mass murderers was so well-known among the other residents of the home that they alerted staff when it became obvious that the duo’s talk was no mere fantasy but a serious plan to carry out their twisted dream.
John LaDue was foiled in 2014 by an alert passerby who thought it just didn’t look right when she saw him slip into a storage locker. She called police, who found a bomb lab in the locker, where he’d been making explosives in preparation for a planned attack on his Waseca, Minnesota, high school. They then found a cache of weapons and ammo as his home, as well as his plans to murder his schoolmates and his family.
LaDue planned to set fires to divert first responders away from the school, where he would carry out his massacre. The bombs would go off at lunch, and then the shooting would begin. It was set to be carried out on the anniversary of Columbine, but by a stroke of luck, that day was Easter that year.
After being arrested, LaDue took a plea deal and spent time in juvenile detention. He was diagnosed as mentally ill but was eventually returned to his family and is working to rebuild his life. During an interview, he stated that he now realizes there was no reason to harm others because of his own problems and considers himself lucky that he was stopped before carrying out his plan.
Jack Sawyer was becoming more withdrawn, but it wasn’t until he dedicated a project to the subject of the Columbine shooting that his teachers went on full alert. Soon, they found out that Sawyer was using the name of one of the killers on his personal Facebook page. Hoping to head things off, they devised an intervention plan to address his behavior, but the plan was never finished because Sawyer ran away to California and dropped out of school. He later enrolled in a treatment center in Maine for ADHD and depression.
According to his father, Jack eventually returned to get a job. But he was also messaging a girl about his long-held plans to commit a mass shooting at his old high school. After the Parkland massacre in 2018, he messaged her that he supported the shooter and what he did. The girl alerted police, who were also tipped off that Sawyer had bought a shotgun. With suspicion growing that Sawyer was going to put his plan into action, he was arrested. Police then discovered that Sawyer was keeping a diary he called “Journal of an Active Shooter,” detailing his plans. He was charged and held without bail.
Yet Vermont had no laws regarding plans to commit school shootings, so in the end, Sawyer was convicted only of carrying a dangerous weapon. He was placed in an out-of-state residential facility for Vermont’s newly implemented youth offender program until he is 22.
Liam Lyburd attended Newcastle College in North East England for five weeks in 2012 until he was expelled for poor behavior. Despite the short length of his tenure as a student there, his dismissal provoked a grudge that he nursed by laying plans for a mass murder. He claimed during his trial that his plotting was only a fantasy, but the court found that Lyburd’s amassing of explosives, a gun, and CS gas was, in fact, the groundwork for an attack he did indeed intend to commit.
Police were alerted to his situation due to Facebook posts he made under a pseudonym. They later discovered that he had discussed a desire to kill over a Skype call with a girl from Iceland. When they searched his room, they found weapons and various notes detailing his thoughts on his attack. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2015 and laughed as he was taken away. Lyburd told police that they had indeed prevented a massacre.
After he was imprisoned, still another event occurred. Lyburd sent a letter to the new owner of his old home detailing where dangerous items were buried in the backyard. The letter had a map showing where some of the items were, perhaps in an attempt to avoid causing harm to the house’s new occupants. After the new owner received the letter, she notified the police, who were rather slow in reacting. Only two days later was an evacuation ordered, but nothing of concern was found in the backyard.
Anthony “T.J.” Solomon was having a difficult time at school. His friends say he was being picked on by a sports team member. Solomon apparently thought that his girlfriend had broken up with him and was cozying up to the very same boy. (He would later shoot the boy twice in the leg.) It was reported that Solomon had also been treated for depression. Finally, after an argument at school, he threatened to blow it up.
Solomon had been laying plans to do just that in May 1999, but he never made or laid any explosives. Nor did he get any of the high-caliber guns from his father’s collection for his rampage. Instead, he went to Heritage High School in Conyers, Georgia, armed with a .22-caliber pump-action rifle. He trained that gun on his classmates. Solomon was well-practiced in marksmanship, but he aimed his shots low. And when his rifle was out of ammunition, he didn’t reload but pulled a .357 magnum revolver and put its barrel in his mouth with the intent to commit suicide. When a vice principal called out to him, instead of pulling the trigger, Solomon collapsed into his arms, shaking and crying.
While the Heritage High shooting did happen, Solomon’s attack ended in no fatalities, and all victims made a full recovery. It was a rampage, not a massacre, probably because it was never about mass murder for Solomon. There was no glory-seeking. Like the students of Heritage High said about what happened, it was just a way out for a depressed boy who couldn’t see any better options.
Maybe that’s the problem.
Mike lives on the East Coast and pays too much for beach parking.