Now I lay me down to sleep.
In his mid-twenties, Randy Stair gave abundant warnings of his intentions through his Facebook posts. In current parlance, this type of transparent behavior is referred to as social media leakage. Leakage is when someone brags about an upcoming ambush of a cop or extolls the virtues of an impending mass murder followed by their suicide.
Randy Stair never hid the fact that he planned on going out in a blaze of self-serving glory. He never tried to hide the location of his future attack nor did he attempt to conceal the method.
Randy’s followers knew him alternately as Randy, Ember, and Blaze. His followers were the ESG, the Ember’s Ghost Squad.
Three years ago, on 08 June 2017, Randy killed himself with a shotgun blast through the roof of his mouth. I consider Randy’s case often while I consider whether receiving training in HBPR&A, human behavior-based threat detection, would have helped identify Randy’s rage and perhaps prevented his armed rampage and ultimate suicide. I do not feel that Randy’s homicidal rage was inevitable.
Randy Stair had undiagnosed mental problems. He also had a number of alter egos. As Ember or Blaze, Randy could burn and rage on social media. Randy’s mental health was in trouble, but most incidents of personality disorders are treatable. All of Randy’s problems could have been treated with professional help and time.
Randy was also confused about his sexual identity. He once related that he was a woman stuck in a man’s body. His closest friends stated that he was an extrovert trapped in an introvert’s body. He cross-dressed and some indications are that he was gay or bisexual.
Randy chose a female embodiment of himself. He called her Ember after the Danny Phantom cartoon female character. It’s hugely important to remember that many of us have identity problems – and rarely do they result in us committing murder or killing ourselves
In fact, I would argue that these are absolutely normal teen, late teen, and early twenties problems. Back in my day if someone expressed these types of feelings and emotions, people would say, “I experimented once in college” and no one thought it was a big deal.
These types of feelings can either haunt you or help define you.
Randy Stair chose to push his feeling deep down and cover up his uncertainty with masks and alternate identities. Rarely does suppression solve a problem. Low self-esteem coupled with identity issues can reach a dangerous flashpoint if left unchecked.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
Randy’s masks never hid his agenda.
Whether on his rage-filled podcasts or in his cartoons, hate, death, and fear were his trademark emotions filling each of his social media exchanges. In addition to suppressing his uncertainty about his gender identity, Randy was harboring evil thoughts. Fantasies filled with homicidal fascination and suicidal ideation.
In 2014 Randy Stair (acting as his alter ego Andrew Blaze) began openly discussing his intent to attack and kill people in his town on his podcast. He said after he killed the people in his town, he would kill people in the world, then kill himself as soon as he was done.
Folks ‘listening in’ often remarked that Randy was just acting out. He was merely portraying a character. It was social commentary and nothing more. Randy stated that he had a “churning rage” inside of him that “hurt (him) every minute of every day”. Randy stated frequently and often that he planned on killing ‘a bunch’ of people, then killing himself to stop the pain.
Randy shared his respect and admiration of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of the Columbine High Massacre fame. That dubious anniversary date just passed again we are now remembering the 21st anniversary of the 20 April 1999 massacre.
If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul, to take.
Randy, Ember and Blaze recorded multiple hours, days really, of hate messages filled with self-deprecation. Randy wrote journal entry after journal entry, filling online blog tomes which he published for three years right up until the night shift on 08 June 2017. The last time Randy intended to work the night shift.
Randy had subscribers. Randy had fans. Some of his fans re-Tweeted his messages. His hectic photos appeared on every one of his social media posts and were many times accompanied by his disturbing videos. No one came forward. Nobody complained. No one took Randy’s warnings seriously.
Randy Stair went to work that final night and spent his entire shift barricading the Weis Market Grocery Store. He worked there and knew every inch of the facility. His plan was simple, no one in and no one out after he started shooting.
A few of the ‘stars’ of his vids were his favorite firearms. They weren’t merely props; they were real and he kept them each in perfect order. In fact, he took his two favorite shotguns to work with him that night, in his small town of Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania.
That night, before killing three co-workers then himself, Andrew Blaze (Ember, Randy Stair) sent one final Twitter message,
“Goodbye humans, I’m going to miss you”.
Three long years of written messages culminating with that single prophetic message went out over Randy’s phone and via his social media posts. Three years of videos and podcasts hosted by a violent, angry, disturbed young youtuber with a large fan following.
Remember that Randy went into great detail on what he was planning to do and when he was going to do it. He even took his fans on a virtual tour of the Weis store where he worked and where he was planning his final act of unspeakable violence. Randy was a powerful communicator who knew how to touch emotional triggers. In one of his videos (Westborough High Massacre) Randy starts with a card stating simply “Goodbye.” He then uses a string of expletives to attack all of the humans that he felt made him feel like he didn’t matter. Randy puts a rope around his neck, then pretends to shoot himself in the head.
Randy Stair even took the time to clearly label his videos “the suicide tapes”. No one called the police to report Randy’s messages. No one warned the Weis employees.
Something’s wrong, shut the light, heavy thoughts tonight, and they aren’t Snow White.
Three days before his fatal, final attack Randy wrote, “I’m so ready to die. Two more fun nights and that’s it.” He added,
“I’ve officially accepted that Wednesday night will be the death of me. Everything around me seems to have faded away. It’s felt as if I’m the last soul alive on this planet for the last week. I see people but they feel like an illusion. I’ve never felt so distant from society…and I love it.”
Hours before he headed to work on that fateful night shift, Randy took the time to post a final video. It illustrated every step of his upcoming killing spree. The first installment was titled, “Supermarket Tour June 7 – The Day Before the Shooting”.
He wrote, “These are all of the audio and video recordings pertaining to my death. All of these recordings and videos are essential for understanding what I did and how I did it.” He added, “To answer an extremely important question, I’m not just ending my life; I will be ending the lives of others as well.”
He wrote a goodbye to his fans on “Ember’s Ghost Squad”, posting a video just hours before his murderous rampage; “Be on the lookout…for headlines pertaining to ‘Tunkhannock.’ I’ve been planning to do this for at least three to four months.”
Dreams of war, dreams of liars, dreams of dragon’s fire, and of things that will bite.
After he had completed barricading the business and ensuring that no one could escape his wrath, Randy calmly unpacked his loaded weapons. Beginning precisely at 0100 hours, Randy went on the hunt.
Randy walked through the store firing his shotguns. He killed Vicky Brong (26), then Brian Hayes (47),
.and finally Terry Sterling (63) before Randy turned the gun on himself and shot himself in the mouth with his favorite 12-gauge.
When the local coppers finally arrived at the Weis Market on Hunter Highway in Eaton Township, Pennsylvania, they had to force entry.
What they found was a homicide scene littered with spent shell casings and blood. They located the two pistol gripped shotguns dropped on the floor next to the deceased remains of Randy Stair. No more Andrew Blaze. No more Ember. No more Ghost Army. Just silence and a cold cadaver that could have amounted to so much more.
Randy’s final video shows him gently placing his loaded shotguns into a duffel bag before he heads to work. 24-year-old Randy Stair breaks the fourth wall, looks at the camera and says,
“I’ve been stepped on my whole life; not anymore. I’ve had enough of this putrid planet and I’m gonna leave my mark.” Randy adds, “When you are going to die, you gotta die hardcore, or not at all!”
Then tell him that his lonesome nights are over.
The ‘So What?’ here is that I have seen this pattern repeated throughout my professional life by people screaming for help before they go off the deep end, having their say and their way before committing an unrecoverable act of violence.
The photos are so similar as to be uncanny. So are the rants, the play-acting for the camera, the masking of the ‘true’ emotions. Nothing is hidden so deeply that you cannot figure out that the warnings are real. It’s actually ironic upon retrospect that the rage, anger, or sadness is so blatantly obvious.
Each one of these similar forecasting episodes ended in an incredibly violent final episode.
Sandman, I’m so alone, don’t have anybody to call my own.
In one rant, Randy Stair wrote; “I have no regrets for what I may do or what I may have done. I am who I am, and no fucking human shitbag can take that away from me. I’m an ‘EGS’ recruit, you’re worthless fucking humans”.
As a student of the human condition, I understand that most people want their say, not their way. The most important distinction is where someone ‘acts out’, wanting both their say and their way.
This is an important distinction and any time you have this situation coupled with hate speech, violent photos, and videos, you must consider the fact that the human dispending this vitriol is serious about the hate and rage they are feeling and they are trying to warn you in their own misguided way of the violence to come.
Please turn on your magic beam. Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream.
One of Randy Stair’s closest friends wrote a sort of eulogy after discovering that Randy had committed suicide.
“I just learned several hours ago that an online friend of mine had gone on a shooting rampage at the supermarket where he worked killing several members of the after-hours, overnight shift, before shooting himself dead. Randy Stair was an attractive young man who many people loved. Over the past couple years, his behavior had become more and more atypical of his former persona, and he had grown increasingly aloof towards his friends, as well as increasingly grim in his attitude. It’s hard to know, especially with a younger person, how much or how little to intervene in their personal affairs, and counsel them about things that look disturbing to you. Lots of young people go through a sort of grim, or withdrawn, or even a countercultural Goth-Style Period but it doesn’t necessarily or usually indicate that they’re on the path towards a psychotic killing spree or suicide”.
“Sometimes when you try to offer advice or counsel to them during those periods of their lives, it only further serves to alienate them. Randy knew that he had a lot of friends who loved him, and that we were all available to him, and concerned about him. As far as I know, he hadn’t actually left any messages about doing this dreadful act”.
It’s not so hard to know.
Stop fearing that your actions or statements will further alienate someone at risk. If they are serious about suicide you have to be equally serious about a counter-suicide strategy. Offering advice or counsel to someone bent on homicide might not work, but it’s worth a try. Once you have discovered that the behavior being acted out is an MDCOA (most dangerous course of action), you need to enlist the aid of professionals.
Leaving the intervention to a group of close friends isn’t enough. You need to inform the police, the local hospital emergency room, the toll-free suicide hotline – literally anyone and everyone that will listen and can offer aid or assistance.
Randy Stair spent his last hour of life working to barricade the store where he worked midnights so that his plot to kill his coworkers could continue unabated. Randy didn’t send any final messages during that time, he had gone internal. All the talking, writing, and videos were now behind him.
Starting at 0100 hours he fired a total of 59 shots into 4 human bodies.
Stevland Morris was born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1950. By 11 years old, this young, prodigious talent was signed by Motown Records. Over the years, Stevland recorded thousands of songs, sold over one hundred million records and had 30 top ten hits (receiving 25 Grammy Awards along the way).
I revere the music of Stevie Wonder.
Perhaps I did a disservice to his legacy; I have used the term ‘Stevie Wonder’ for many years while teaching memory and emotion links to the thousands of students I have encountered.
I never used his name in an insulting manner, only as a pop-culture reference while invoking the context of Matthew 9:26-28, or Jonathan Swift who wrote about it in 1738, or a more recent example when Ray Stevens sings,
“There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
Sometimes confirmation bias is the enemy of logic. Sometimes we are so close to someone or something that we refuse to see the threat that it represents.
The best way to see what is hidden from you is to seek out training. Not necessarily what to look for, but how to look. How to look and how to conduct analysis to determine relevance.
Training changes behavior.