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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Life imitating art imitating life

Two teenage boys want to commit a school tragedy based on the events that happened in Columbine. They experiment with pipe bombs and diarise everything they do. Theyr’e ultimately caught by their parents and arrested.

This is the plot of Fuse, released in July this year, but bizarrely, it is also the true story of two boys recently apprehended in Manchester. For the two main characters in Fuse, there is a happy ending waiting at the end of the novel, but for Matthew Swift and Ross McKnight, a bleak future awaits as they stand trial for conspiracy to commit murder.

Two British teenagers obsessed with the Columbine killers plotted the ‘greatest school massacre ever’ on the tenth anniversary of the shootings, a court heard yesterday.

Matthew Swift, 18, and his friend Ross McKnight, 16, both loners with a grudge against society, hoped ‘to kill thousands’ in an attack on schoolmates and a shopping centre, it was alleged.

The younger boy even wrote an essay describing how he carries out a shooting at his school in which ten die, including himself and Swift.

Target: Swift and McKnight plotted to murder teachers and pupils at Audenshaw High School in Greater Manchester, the court was told

Both keen weightlifters – McKnight aspired to compete in the London Olympics in 2012 – they had few friends but were extremely close, Manchester Crown Court heard.

They became obsessed with mass killings, particularly the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot dead 12 students and a teacher at their high school before killing themselves.

They had attempted to blow up the school as well but their bombs failed to go off.

Afterwards, videos in which the two teenagers boasted about the crime they were to commit were discovered at their homes.

‘It is the prosecution case that these two young men sat in the dock had planned to copy and emulate the actions of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, here in the UK,’ said Peter Wright QC, prosecuting.
ross mcknight

Ambitions: McKnight aspired to compete at the 2012 London Olympics in weightlifting

‘They had discussed, they had fantasised and eventually they had agreed to convert their fantasises into reality.’

He said they planned to detonate ‘some form of improvised explosive device’ at nearby Crown Point North shopping centre before going to Audenshaw High School to ‘embark upon a killing spree in which they would murder teachers and pupils alike before killing themselves’.

McKnight talked of ‘sparing’ two pupils who were friends by warning them not to come to school before the alleged attack, the court heard.

He sent one female pupil a note by the MSN internet messaging service reading: ‘If I ever text you not to come into school don’t question it, just don’t go in.’

By the time of their arrest in March this year, Swift had left school and was working at Ikea, but McKnight was still at the school.

He had completed an IT project about the 1995 Oklahoma bombing in which 168 people died, Mr Wright said.

It featured a poem chosen by the bomber Timothy McVeigh before his execution.

McKnight also wrote an essay entitled Equations of the Mind about a shooting he carries out at Audenshaw School in which ten die including himself and Swift.

In the story, his parents subsequently discover a notepad, also entitled Equations of the Mind, and a videotape in which he reveals that he was the gunman.

The fictional McKnight says: ‘The massacre went to plan just as I wanted it to go. I hope you’ve worked it out by now, but if you’re struggling, it was me.’

The essay was given a C by teachers who called it ‘an interesting and unusual piece’.
Crown Point North shopping centre

Fantasy: The pair also wanted ‘to blow up Crown Point North shopping centre’

However, in the early hours of March 14 this year, just over a month before the tenth anniversary of Columbine, McKnight called a girl he had a ‘crush’ on, Mr Wright said.

He told her he ‘couldn’t wait’ for April 20.

Three days earlier, German teenager Tim Kretschmer had killed 15 people in an armed rampage at his school.

Mr Wright told the jury: ‘He said he and “Swifty” had been inspired by what had happened in America – school shootings – and what had happened in Germany.’

McKnight said ‘it would be a busy season for things like that’ as he and Swift had been making bombs and planned to detonate them at a shopping centre before going to the school and shooting people.

The girl called police who arrested the pair and found diaries in which they wrote about the alleged plot.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold

Columbine massacre: Heavily-armed Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold march through the school’s cafeteria on the day they murdered 12 students and one teacher

The court heard Swift’s notepad contained a CCTV still of Harris and Klebold during the Columbine massacre next to which he had written: ‘My favourite picture in the world. To most just a CCTV shot. I perceive so much more, I see depression, sadness, rage, hate, deceit.

‘Most of all I see two kids enraged by the corruption of this world. The image is beautiful.’

There is also a photo of a student, 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen, at a high school in Finland wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Humanity is over’.

He went on to shoot eight dead and wound 12 others at the school in November 2007.

Using the heading Project Rainbow – Ground Zero, Swift described himself as the reincarnation of Eric Harris, using his nickname ‘Reb’.

An injured student is wheeled into an ambulance at Columbine High School

Inspiration: An injured student is wheeled into an ambulance at Columbine High School. Swift and McKnight planned a similar suicide mission, the court heard

‘These documents were to be his epitaph,’ Mr Wright said. His bedroom contained a copy of The Anarchist’s Cookbook which features bomb-making instructions.

Swift had allegedly attempted to obtain chemicals including hydrogen peroxide which can be used to create explosions.

A hollowed-out book was also found in which was hidden the key to a locked box containing table tennis balls, chemicals from which could also be used to create explosive-substances, the court heard. Mobile phone video footage of the pair experimenting with pipe bombs was seized as well as lengths of copper piping, Mr Wright said.

Floorplans of the school were also discovered as well as a replica handgun.

Mr Wright said both teenagers were ‘loners’ with Swift the more articulate, a prolific writer, filling pads in which he ‘railed against life in general’. ‘Each of them had an extremely corrosive influence one upon the other,’ he added.

Both teenagers had applied to join the Army – a further parallel with the Columbine gunmen, the court heard.

Most of the alleged plotting dated back to 2007, the court heard, after which they dropped Project Rainbow in favour of plans to travel to Alaska and live in the wilderness.

But Mr Wright said they had never abandoned it entirely, telling the jury that as the Columbine anniversary approached they planned to put it into effect.

At interview, Swift claimed the alleged plot was nothing more than the fantasies of ‘a confused teenager with an active imagination’.

McKnight refused to answer questions.

Both deny conspiracy to murder and to cause explosions.

The trial continues.

As Morne Harmse is about to be sentenced as an adult for murder, and these two boys stand trial on the other side of the water, I can’t help but feel that there is no help for our youth in the present climate.

It’s an unforgiving world out there and I’m saddened that we still don’t understand the nature of this crisis and how to solve it. We need to do more.

 

Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    September 8th, 2009 @23:38 #
     
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    Bump

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    September 9th, 2009 @01:27 #
     
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    Spooky. And shows that Fuse has its finger right on the pulse of the zeitgeist.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    September 9th, 2009 @07:41 #
     
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    The part that worries me is that these kids are being criminally prosecuted for an idea that never went beyond the planning stages, and that they abandoned in 2007.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    September 9th, 2009 @08:38 #
     
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    If you will allow me an extract from my thesis-in-progress:

    There is an enormous amount of online material available about the Columbine High School massacre. It is clear that salacious interest always accompanies a real-world irruption of wish-fulfilling horror that usually stays locked away in the semiotic realm of fantasy. Jacques Derrida sees the will to cast fantasies about nuclear endings as a strong libidinal desire: “Some might call [non-localizable nuclear war] a fable, then, a pure invention: in the sense in which it is said that a myth, an image, a fiction, a utopia, a rhetorical figure, a fantasy, a phantasm, are inventions. … Who can swear that our unconscious is not expecting this? [D]reaming of it, desiring it?” (Derrida "No Apocalypse, Not Now" 23) Coupland writes in “The Wrong Sun”, a story in Life after God (1994), that that “In modern middle-class culture the absence of death in most people’s early years creates a psychic vacuum of sorts. For many, thoughts of a nuclear confrontation are one’s first true brush with nonexistence.” (LAG 85) Nuclear awe replaces religious awe in modern middle-class culture. In Hey Nostradamus!, the intimate catastrophe of school shootings have replaced nuclear war as the prime holocaust, but they operate just as much as a link to the non-material, an awe-striking remnant of religion. The fact that the Columbine massacre has been liturgically repeated and its facts and statistics rendered into scripture can be explained in these terms.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    September 9th, 2009 @10:22 #
     
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    Indeed, Louis. It seems to have been a fantasy that got them through some difficult times in high school. But they soon abandoned it in favour of an alternative survivalist fantasy about travelling to Alaska and living in the wilderness (also apocalyptic in its own way). I just don't understand what they're doing in the dock facing criminal charges.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    September 9th, 2009 @10:37 #
     
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    Fiona, that's exactly the question that Fuse asks... Louis, that was a fascinating snippet.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    September 9th, 2009 @11:01 #
     
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    Are we seeing the birth of a generation who have flawed heroes to emulate? More and more movies, games and books (including Fuse and 6FM) are presenting former antagonists as protagonists. And so we sympathise with bank robbers pursued by a mighty police force (Heat, Oceans 11/12/13 etc), or we race through city streets blasting away police, other criminals and innocent bystanders (Grand Theft Auto and other games), or we try to understand what makes the former 'bad guys' tick (books aplenty). I wonder to what extent these new anti-heroes, fed by real-world reports of latter-day amok, shape the fantasies and actions of youngsters. And more importantly, how one can ensure a healthy frame of mind without locking one's kids up in the cellar, as I have.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    September 9th, 2009 @11:12 #
     
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    I think Sally's thesis is that children mainly need to be protected from other children, rather than from movies, videogames, popular culture etc. Apologies if I am misrepresenting you, Sally!

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    September 9th, 2009 @11:19 #
     
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    Mainly, perhaps, but not only. I remember a time when I would have preferred to live fast and die young. In fact, as I work hard and live slow, I sometimes look back on those days with some nostalgia. I sometimes wonder what might have happenened if I had been exposed to the media mind-fuck that kids have to cope with today.

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    September 9th, 2009 @11:27 #
     
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    As Richard picked up in my novel, the adult characters are very two dimensional. This is to emphasise how far removed adults often are from adolescents. My feeling on this matter is that there is little understanding and no communication occuring between adults and kids. If a child fantasises about killing his classmates, instead of putting them on trial, why not get to the root of the problem? Why are you feeling this way? What's happening in your life that's causing this aggression? Fuse illustrates how isolated these teenagers are from the world. Till we stop treating them like criminals, and treating the poblem instead, these events will continue to occur, and escalate.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    September 9th, 2009 @12:00 #
     
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    But surely the lack of communication and understanding and sometimes sheer enmity between teens and their parents isn't new? Nor is the struggle to find one's place among one's peers. What is new is the inclination to head off to school armed to the teeth to get a little payback. Hence my question: are we seeing the birth of the GOPA Generation - Game over. Play again?

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    September 9th, 2009 @12:35 #
     
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    In my research for Fuse, I picked up some statistics that showed a dcrease in teen suicides in recent years. Perhaps instead of teens taking their fustrations out on themselves they feel that fighting back at their aggressors is a way of self-empowering themselves?

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  • Sven
    Sven
    September 9th, 2009 @14:43 #
     
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    Richard, thanks, that was hilarious. I'm with Sally on this one, I think bullying, broken communication and social isolation is the root of problem. All the other things being pointed to as causes, i.e. media, games, music probably just lower the threshold for violence and acting out what would probably have remained fantasies a couple of decades ago. Crappy music, games and media are not going to go away, but one can deal with bullying and the social climate at schools.

    I read an interesting article that suggests that schools are basically popularity contests for most kids (for many this continues into adulthood), and how this puts a lot of social pressure on people who don't really see the point in putting a lot of energy into impressing other people or simply can't.

    These people are often slightly more intelligent, and end up being marginalised and bullied as a result (we had a 'nerd herd' at my primary school and I was a signed up member). One can easily see how this could become explosive, some kids are really tortured in school. I'll try find the link.

    One has to wonder what these two guys were hoarding the ping pong balls for though, some kind of Thai style sex show before they launched their attack?

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    September 9th, 2009 @15:04 #
     
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    Perhaps they were picked on for playing ping pong. Who knows.

    Sven's right though, games and music are not the issue, and in many cases act as a solace for bullied kids.

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