Inside an accused school shooter’s mind

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

This look inside an accused school shooter’s mind is as disturbing as you might imagine:

Six days before he allegedly opened fire on an elementary school playground, the eighth-grader returned to his Instagram group chat to fixate, yet again, on his most intense interests: guns and bombs and the mass murder of children.

“My plan,” wrote Jesse Osborne, who had turned 14 three weeks earlier, “is shooting my dad getting his keys getting in his truck, driving to the elementary school 4 mins away, once there gear up, shoot out the bottom school class room windows, enter the building, shoot the first class which will be the 2d grade, grab teachers keys so I don’t have to hasle to get through any doors.”

He had been researching other school shooters for months and, determined to outdo them, learned exactly how many people they’d murdered: 13 at Columbine High; 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary; 32 at Virginia Tech.

“I think ill probably most likely kill around 50 or 60,” Jesse declared. “If I get lucky maybe 150.”


“The coldbloodedness, the callousness of the attack — not only before but afterwards,” said Langman, who was not involved in the case but has reviewed Jesse’s confession. “Even having done it, he’s not struck with horror or guilt.”

In fact, James Ballenger, a psychiatrist who interviewed Jesse for a total of nine hours, found that the teen reveled in what he’d done.


“I have to beat Adam Laza…” he wrote nine days before the Sept. 28, 2016, shooting in a misspelled reference to the Sandy Hook killer, Adam Lanza. “Atleast 40.”

Two days later, he debated whether he should attack his middle school, from which he’d been expelled, or his elementary school, just up the road. He decided on Townville Elementary because it was closer and had no armed security. Jesse, who considered himself the victim of an unfair world, announced online that he would kill kids he didn’t know and had never met “before they bullie the nobodys.”

“Itll be like shooting fish in a barrel,” he wrote his friends, whose identities remain unclear, along with whether the FBI has tracked any of them down. The agency declined to comment, citing Jesse’s open case.

In the chat, he said he had researched police response times for the area and found that it would take them 15 minutes to get there, maybe 45 for SWAT. He said he would throw pipe bombs into each classroom before he got in a shootout with police and killed himself with his shotgun. He said he had been planning a massacre for two years.

A detective later discovered that Jesse, then a 6-foot-tall, 147-pound wispy-haired blond with a voice that tended to crack, had used his phone to Google these terms: “deadliest US mass shootings,” “top 10 mass shooters,” “youngest mass murderer,” “10 youngest murderers in history.”

Seven hours after he was pinned to the ground outside Townville Elementary by a volunteer firefighter, Jesse acknowledged in an interview with investigators that he’d shot far fewer kids than he’d intended. The problem, he explained, was the weapon. He’d only had access to the .40-caliber pistol his father kept in a dresser drawer. It had jammed on the playground, just 12 seconds after he first pulled the trigger.


It wasn’t until he moved to a middle school in a neighboring county that his “other side,” as one psychiatrist put it, became clear. He pulled the legs off crickets and smashed frogs against the ground and habitually watched a video of kittens being mutilated. He also posted Instagram videos about Columbine that some at the school considered a potential threat. The teen grew more volatile, insisting that he’d been bullied, a claim investigators later questioned.

After one kid poked his chest, Jesse threatened him.

“When I come back with a rifle, you’re going to be the one I shoot,” he recalled to Ballenger, who noted in court that Jesse “loved how much it scared the boy.”

Then, one day, he brought a hatchet and a machete in his backpack. When another student spotted the weapons and reported him, Jesse was expelled and arrested, serving a brief stint in juvenile detention before being placed on probation.

It was then, as a home-schooler, that he became consumed with violent fantasies, the court evidence showed. How much his parents knew about them remains unclear, but at least once, the couple came across Internet messages he’d written that they found disturbing, and his mother acknowledged to investigators that he’d become increasingly difficult to raise.


Jesse told police that he also had discovered the “true crime community” on Tumblr, where fans of serial killers and mass murderers gather to delight in their shared devotion. Through that, his fascination with other school shooters, especially Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, bloomed. His Instagram username included “nbk,” for the movie “Natural Born Killers,” and “kmfdm,” for a German industrial band — a pair of pop-culture references that appeared frequently in the writings of the Columbine killers.


“Now I have a life,” Jesse announced near the end of his confession. “Probably won’t get a job, but I’ll — I’ll at least have a life.”

That sounded bizarre for a teenager who knew he was likely to face decades in prison, but, as the experts who would analyze him soon discovered, the comment spoke to Jesse’s chief motivation.

Ballenger, a psychiatrist with 40 years of experience, had already analyzed Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine African Americans in a Charleston church in 2015, and Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people and wounded Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona in 2011. What he saw in Jesse was a young man who killed not because of bullies or abuse or a fractured mind, but because he wanted to attain the life and status he’d envisioned.

“He was going to be famous, the best shooter ever,” Ballenger testified. “He was going to be worshiped for a long time — worshiped.”

“Did you see evidence of him looking at statistics of people to see how he lines up?” a prosecutor asked him.

Ballenger noted Jesse’s Google searches for other mass shootings before his attack.

“He actually confirmed that he would be one of the youngest, if not the youngest,” the doctor said.

“And that was one of his goals?”

“That was his goal,” Ballenger told the court. “To be the best shooter — to get 50 to 60.”


  1. Ross says:

    Was anything in there about the meds he was (or had been) on?

    Was it a more or less intact family or was there a divorce or abuse issue in there?

    Did Ballenger conjecture about why somebody who went from “wanting to be someone” turned into wanting to be a killer? If it was just pure recognition you wouldn’t think most people would go for “killer”

  2. Graham says:

    It’s hard to see the validity of cavalierly dismissing the role of bullies, abuse or a fractured mind, since status seeking on its own, even in someone so unlikely to achieve status, seems not to normally lead to this sort of thing.

    We might, collectively, usefully re-evaluate a social model that seems to promise young people they will get fame, or at least prioritizes it as a life goal more than was formerly the case.

    I don’t see a road back to a world in which being an ordinary person has intrinsic dignity, let alone one in which every young person believes it.

  3. Graham says:

    It has its own problems, but we’d even be better off if every young person imbibed greed in childhood. It’s easier to get a little money than to get an equal measure of fame, and less destructive. And more people can get money than fame.

    I’d even be willing to be tolerant of the class that gets money by illegal means. There’s crime, and then there’s crime.

  4. Kirk says:

    I think there’s a certain percentage of the population that’s like this, and you can’t do much about it besides keep identifying them and then actually do something about them when you do. When the lion comes, there is no need to agonize over the lion’s nature; you act, and you act by eliminating the lion.

    This is a simple fact that we’ve lost sight of. Generations ago, men and women like this would have likely been “peered out” from life, when their neighbors and kin realized what they were. And, that was a lot easier to do, when you had ten kids, and not as much invested in them as we do now. Today’s parents don’t have the same amount of dispassion that they did of old–I can recall hearing old-timers from families with ten kids, whose parents basically treated them like fungible and expendable farm implements, and the discussion about Carl, the one brother who liked abusing animals and younger siblings…? It was interesting, to say the least. Carl didn’t make it out of his teenage years, and you rather got the impression that the rest of the family made sure of that.

    These days, that’s not gonna happen. The old-timers had ways of dealing with this stuff, and did it without apology or rancor. Only our enlightened idiocy looks at a damaged creature, and says “Oh, how sad… We must help them…”. In the old, more resource-constrained days of yore, you didn’t worry about whether it was nature or nurture; you just empirically identified the bad seed, and ensured it didn’t get planted.

  5. An Ancient Urge says:

    “But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity… Herostratus lives that burnt the Temple of Diana, he is almost lost that built it… Who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, than any that stand remembred in the known account of time?”

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