How Online Plots Lead to Real World Crimes

Reports that a Finnish teenager who shot eight people at a school last week had been in touch with an American boy allegedly plotting his own school shooting shed light on the darker corners of the Internet where people can meet to plot, share information, or seek co-conspirators, experts told ABC

Law enforcement, forensic psychology and Internet crime experts all described the online meeting of the two teens as one incident in a growing trend in which likeminded criminals -- from pedophiles to terrorists -- use the Web to find and consultant with one another.

"The beauty of the Internet is that it allows communities of interests to gather together, be they orchid growers dog show enthusiasts or fans of a band. The darker side is that it can also bring together terrorists, pedophiles or kids who want to re-create Columbine," said Julie M. Albright, a sociologist at the University of Southern California and an expert in Internet crime.

Discussing the 1999 Columbine High School massacre made up the bulk of the teens' conversations, said J. David Farrell attorney for Dillon Cossey, 14, who was accused last month in Pennsylvania of plotting a school shooting in Philadelphia.

District Attorney Bruce Castor said US investigators have yet to find evidence of the conversations on Cossey's computer but that the boy "idolized and worshipped [Columbine shooters] [Dylon] Klebold and [Eric] Harris."

Finnish police and Cossey's attorney confirm the boys met in cyberspace.

Planning Killing Spree

The prosecutor learned about the conversations from Cossey, who denied the boys planned their killing sprees together. Cossey did admit to "fantasizing about being a military leader" and "getting a gun and getting hand grenades," Castor said.

Police say Auvinen posted YouTube videos showing him posing with a gun just 30 minutes before last week's attack. One of the video clips, titled "Jokela High School Massacre," showed a picture of the school and two photos of Auvinen holding a handgun.

In Pennsylvania last month investigators found a rifle, about 30 air-powered guns modeled to look like higher-powered weapons, swords, knives, a bomb-making book, videos of the 1999 Columbine attack and violence-filled notebooks. Police allege Cossey, though home schooled, was plotting to shoot up a local Philadelphia high school.

"This is a new wrinkle in all new criminal behavior, whether school shooting or sex offenders," said N.G. Berrill, a forensic psychologist and director of the consulting group New York Forensics. "The Internet provides the opportunity to chat with likeminded people about potentially violent or perverse themes."

"In the past, the profile of the school shooter was the loner malcontent, perhaps not terribly different from the person who shows up at a business and shoots his colleagues. It shouldn't come as a surprise that someone isolated and seething with unbridled rage could find another likeminded person somewhere else in the world be it Finland, the U.S. or anywhere," he said.

Law enforcement officials said the Internet is increasingly being used as a tool in real-world crimes, not just traditional cyber crimes like identity fraud or child pornography trading.

In February three British men who never met in person were accused of meeting in a chat room and plotting the rape and abduction of two 12-year-old girls.

'Drooling Over the Prospect'

In sentencing the men, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin, said of the online discussions: "You were drooling over the prospect to take these children into the woods and rape them. These logs were further spiced, if that is the right word, by the swapping of pornographic images of young children," according to the Times of London.

In 2005, Skyler Chambers and his accomplice, Turner Reeves III, were convicted after they discussed online how they wanted to sodomize, rape and kill young girls, and schemed how they could get away with the crimes.

Dan Ferraro, an investigator for the Illinois attorney general, testified that he found 23,000 hits for the word "rape" in Chambers' computer, and downloaded 175 videos of women and girls being raped, according to the Chicago Tribune. He also said they found 1,800 suspected images of child pornography on his computer, and searches Chambers made asking "how to burn a body while keeping odor down" and "how to burn a body in minutes."

David Musgrove, supervisory special agent of the FBI's cybercrime unit, said the bureau is monitoring the uptick in people using the Net to plot real world crimes, but that agents could not just sit and wait in suspicious chat rooms.

"We're in touch with current trends … and we know the sorts of forums that are popular for the online behaviors that are precursors to violent acts," Musgrove said. "However, we can't just troll the Net. We need probable cause."

District Attorney Castor echoed the difficulties in monitoring the Web for criminal conversations: "It is so vast, you simply could not police it," he said.