How Tumblr's True Crime Fandom Reacted to the Escape of a School Shooter

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Thursday marked two major events for Tumblr's community of "True Crime" fandom: it was the birthday of Dylan Klebold, one of the killers in Columbine High School massacre. And it was also the night that another school shooter, Thomas "T.J." Lane, briefly escaped from prison. (He was re-apprehended not far from the prison.)

In 2012, Lane opened fired in the Chardon High School cafeteria, killing three kids and injuring three more, including one student who is now paralyzed from the waist down. But what really sets Lane apart, other than the fact that he's still alive, was the way he cruelly taunted the families of the children he murdered. During his sentencing hearing he wore a shirt that said "KILLER" and gave the following statement:

This hand that pulled the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory. Fuck all of you.

Then he flipped the room off. For the Lane fandom, that's a key moment. There are gifs of it, and blogs named after the quotes (ex:

When Lane escaped from the Allen Correctional Facility in Lima, Ohio, last night, police searched frantically for him and warned locals to not to give rides to hitchhikers or open the door for strangers. Meanwhile the True Crime fandom on Tumblr made jokes:


Lane was captured early Friday morning, reportedly holding a pitchfork, which prompted even more jokes:

Tumblr's hybristophilia (the sexual attraction to people who've committed violent crimes) community is well known. As Rachel Monroe wrote at The Awl in 2012, the country was shocked by the teenage girls who fawned over James Holmes, the Aurora, Colorado, shooter who opened fire on a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsaraev is also a popular figure.

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However, it's the Columbine story that users seem to be most captivated by.

...the Holmies were just an offshoot of the already-existing Tumblr worlds of girls who crush, hard, on killers. Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, and Charles Manson all have their groupies, but the widest and most prolific group seems to be the Columbiners, who have devoted themselves to Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

Yesterday, September 11, would have been Klebold's 33rd birthday, a day of mourning in the Columbiner community:

Tumblr's True Crime fandom is aware of the scrutiny it gets from the outside world, especially the not-obsessed-with-mass-murderers part of Tumblr.

Three posts from Shotsofdylan.

Shotsofdylan, the same blog that posted the bit of Dylan/T.J. fanfiction above, wrote:

People who actually think we support murderers and condone their actions are fucking idiots. If you bothered to talk to most of us, we don’t condone anything bad they ever did. And most of us are intelligent, forgiving, compassionate people who learned a lot about humanity and life through the murderers we’re interested in. Don’t talk shit about us before you get to know us. Thanks.

Monroe argued at The Awl that there's actually not that much of a difference between Columbiners and Beliebers — both have intense infatuations with unattainable (in)famous people. "Perhaps what's so disturbing about the Columbiners is not who they're crushing on, but how it's actually not so difficult to imagine what it might be like to be one," she wrote. Tumblr's True Crime fangirls, particularly the ones amused by Lane, aren't obsessed with the killing, but the image of the person they've imagined. Lane is "bold" and "smug" and "cute." The Columbine killers deserve empathy. The victims that made these killers famous aren't relevant.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.