MOSCOW—For the third year in succession, a Russian teenager has done something that Europeans previously believed was the sole preserve of disaffected American students. Danila Monakhov, 18, embarked on a mass shooting in the city of Nizhny Novgorod on Monday, shooting seven people before turning the gun on himself.
Handsome but socially awkward, the teen shooter had watched videos of the Columbine massacre linking him to a Russian social media trend of so-called “Columbiners,” who fetishize the U.S. high school shooting that took the lives of 12 Colorado students and a teacher in 1999. “Both his teachers and school mates knew that Monakhov was preparing for Columbine,” a headline in a local newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets said on Wednesday.
Monakhov’s classmates described him as a loner. A girl named Maria from his class said he was weak and shy but made comments about mass shootings, and had previously threatened to organize “some terrorist attack, to shoot some people,” she told RIA news agency.
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The school psychologist told Moskovsky Komsomolets that he had studied Monakhov's social media posts, one of which said: "The day of resurrection is coming soon.” Monakhov put the date of the massacre at the Columbine High School as his birthdate on social media pages: April, 20, 1999.
Nobody paid much attention to his words but it transpired this week that Monakhov was serious. He took the hunting rifle he’d been given as a gift for his 18th birthday and he shot seven people.
Until 2018, when there was a horrific shooting at the Kerch Polytechnic College in Crimea carried out by a Columbine fanatic, Russians had been baffled by whatever societal conditions could lead to so many mass shootings in the U.S. There have now been five mass casualty gun attacks in Russia this year alone; another was carried out by a young man, aged 21, in June.
Last month, the Federal Security Service (FSB) swooped on a group of “Columbiners,” whose profiles were linked to a pro-Columbine school shooting account. The 13 arrests included 11 members of a “secret community,” who were calling on internet users to commit acts of mass violence. They reportedly possessed hunting rifles, four self-made explosives, cellphones and diaries with page after page describing “plans of attacks on schools, law enforcement institutions and public places.”
According to the News.ru independent news site, nine of the kids were sent to a psychiatric clinic in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, for evaluation. They all followed a “Columbine” group on the popular Russian social media site VK.com.
Pavel Chikov, the head of international human rights group Agora, who defends teenagers accused of being Russian “Columbiners,” said more needs to be done to help vulnerable teens who are being seduced by the prospect of violence.
“I know five cases involving Russian teens—clearly law enforcement agencies have been focusing on these groups, since the massacre in Kerch,” Chikov told The Daily Beast in an interview on Wednesday.
The human rights defender said the Columbine massacre had made an impact on pop culture. “One needs to understand the nuances of school bullying, of humiliations that some teenagers go through to reach the edge. Russian public opinion is divided, some say that it is necessary to persecute these teenagers, others insist that it is important to prevent attacks by paying closer attention to the teenagers’ issues, like school bullying.”
The family of one of the arrested teenagers, a 14-year-old girl called Alena, admitted that she had previously spoken to a friend about the Columbine massacre but they said she had never encouraged anyone to commit a violent act. Her attorney Vladimir Vasin criticized law enforcement agencies for not banning the Columbine group on VK.com, in spite of the law giving police such power.
A member of parliament, Irina Yarovaya, introduced a bill giving law enforcement agencies the power to block social media pages advocating mass violence by young people after the 2018 attack when Russian authorities were shocked into recognizing a rising number of Columbine fanatics.
Despite the intervention, young Russians have continued to discuss U.S. school massacres online. The Interior Ministry announced last year that Russian police had uncovered “Columbiners” in nine regions.
Just a day before the shooting this week, somebody posting under the alias “Mr. Marble” uploaded photographs of the Columbine shooters on VK and said: “This mass murder is No.1 among school shootings.” On the same day, a user called Pasha Udalov posted a photograph of the Columbine shooters aiming at the photographer with their fingers like guns. “This picture was taken a couple weeks before the tragedy,” the post said.
This week’s shooter, Monakhov, was gifted the hunting rifle he had long wanted by his father as soon as he was old enough to license it, according to the Nizhny Novgorod Online portal.
Last weekend, Monakhov retrieved his rifle, which he kept in his grandmother’s apartment in a small village. On Monday morning, his grandma blocked his way as he tried to take his rifle and 40 bullets out of her home. Monakhov shot her in the stomach, before shooting her neighbor and then firing at pedestrians and a bus outside.
Monakhov fled the scene. While he was hiding in the woods, three of his victims died, four more were hospitalized, including his grandmother. To save her life doctors were forced to amputate her arm. Special police units searched through the night, until they found his body in the woods. The teenager committed suicide, according to the police report. The massacre shook the city of Nizhny Novgorod, which was still recovering after a journalist set herself on fire in the city center earlier this month.
Deadly gun shots can be heard in Russia nearly every day shootings are especially frequent in the Northern Caucasus republics. Seven people were shot dead in the capital of Chechnya on Monday, according to official reports, four of them were ex-Islamist fighters back from the war in Syria. On the same day, two more young men were killed in a police shooting in the republic of Dagestan, which is just across the border from Azerbaijan, which is locked in a violent conflict with Armenia.
Grigory Shvedov, editor-in-chief of Caucasus Knot, said the level of aggression has been steadily growing in the region. “The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the social issues, unemployment, poverty but that is not the only key to solving Russia’s struggle against terrorism,” he told The Daily Beast.
Shvedov said that the constant news of mass shootings in public places in the U.S., as well as brutal police clashes, had created copycats. “We monitor the degree of public tolerance for violence: it is very high. The American context has influence, as well as the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, where dozens die just on the other side of the mountain ridge and there is no adequate efforts to stop the violence.”