Did Video Game Drive Teens to Shootings?

ByABC News via logo

Sept. 6, 2003 -- The family of a slain motorist has filed suit against the maker of a video game that two teens claim inspired them to shoot at passing cars on a Tennessee highway.

Grand Theft Auto, a video game that allows players to "fire" on people and cars in realistic, shoot-'em-up fashion, is a cash cow that propelled manufacturer TAKE2interactive to the top of the video game industry. For the middle and high school students who play the game for hours on end, it's a means of escaping the monotony of teenage life.

But for two stepbrothers, 16-year-old William and 14-year-old Joshua Buckner, that escape turned deadly this summer. They told police they were emulating Grand Theft Auto on the night of June 25 when they took shotguns to Interstate 40, near their Newport, Tenn., home, and opened fire on vehicles.

A Bullet Through the Window

The boys told police they did not mean to hit people, but the results were catastrophic.

"I have eight bullet fragments all in my body," said 19-year-old Kimberly Bede, of Moneta, Va., who was hit in the pelvis as she rode in the passenger seat of her boyfriend's car. "The bullet entered my hip and I'm still receiving medical treatment."

Aaron Hamel, a 45-year-old registered nurse from Knoxville, Tenn., traveling in a separate car, was killed.

"We had a beautiful day in the mountains, and we were heading back home to Knoxville," said Hamel's cousin, Denise Deneau on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America Friday.

"We were talking, laughing, listening to music and all of a sudden my cousin told me to look at the beautiful flowers. And as I did that, my glass shattered and I felt heat across my face," she said.

When Deneuau saw the glass and blood she thought she had been shot, but when she realized the car was out of control, she looked at Hamel.

"He had a large bullet hole at the side of his head," Deneuau said.

After the car made it across the highway, passing oncoming traffic, it stopped at the guard rail.

Deneuau said she knew her cousin would die quickly from the nature of the injury.

"I reassured him that I was OK and that I would take care of his pets and I told him that I loved him," she said.

Family members say the nature of Hamel's death is especially ironic because he had volunteered to work at a Tennessee facility for wayward teens shortly before the shooting.

Teens Plead Guilty, Lawsuit Filed

The teenage shooters, who each pleaded guilty to reckless homicide, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment, will be held at a state juvenile detention center until they turn 19. The law in Tennessee allows them to remain in the custody of the state Department of Children's Services until they are 19, but no longer.

In written statements, the boys expressed remorse for their actions.

"I will always hate myself for what I did. I am so sorry," wrote William Buckner.

"I didn't want to hurt anyone," wrote Joshua Buckner. "This will be with me the rest of my life."

The Hamel family hired attorney Jack Thompson and filed suit Thursday against TAKE2interactive, the video game maker. Thompson says it's time to send a message to the video game makers.

"We want to send a message with a huge verdict to Sony and TAKE2interactive and the entire video game industry that if they're going to continue to market adult-rated games to children with these horrific consequence, then we're going to take their blood money from them and send a message to their boards that they have to stop this practice or there will be other suits on behalf of other people, killed by these games," Thompson said.

TAKE2interactive declined to comment to Good Morning America about the incident.

Are Parents the Gatekeepers?

It's not the first time the game Grand Theft Auto has been linked to bouts of real-life violence.

A gang of teenagers in California, charged with plotting carjackings and murder, say their actions were inspired by playing Grand Theft Auto, morning, noon, and night.

In Oakland, Calif., a group of young people who called themselves the "Nut Cases" told police they played violent video games before going out and robbing and killing random victims on the street. They said their favorite was Grand Theft Auto. The five men and one woman are facing charges in dozens of robberies and five killings that took place in 2002 and early 2003.

The Entertainment Software Association, which represents the video game industry, pointed to research showing that youth crime has gone down even as video games have proliferated. The games are rated for violence, and ultimately, parents make the decisions about what games they bring into their homes, the association said in a statement.

"Parents are present at and involved in the purchase or rental of games 83 percent of the time, according to a September 2000 Federal Trade Commission report," the association said.

Family members of those killed in video game-related shooting sprees say it is time to take Grand Theft Auto off the market, before more lives are lost.

Bede, who says she will never fully recover from the incident that left bullet fragments in her body, isn't satisfied with the sentence the Buckner boys received.

"I really don't think they got what they deserve," she said.