Two days ago, Russia was rocked by the news of a school shooting in Kazan, the timeline of which mimics the actions of a similar shooter in Kerch three years ago, a tragedy still fresh in the minds of most Russians. There are several differences this time, the main ones being the smaller number of victims and the shooter not committing suicide at the end, but both shooters targeted schools and used bombs.
According to the college the shooter attended, he was a typical “quiet kid” who was absorbed in his laptop and didn’t have any meaningful interactions with his peers. He started to slip through the cracks sometime in January: he stopped attending lectures, cut off all contact with his academic advisors, moved out and stopped talking to his own family, and ultimately was expelled after failing to show up for multiple exams. The college’s press office failed to mention the fact that the shooter was bullied during his time in school and college, something that only became evident after his classmates started giving interviews to the media.
A few days before the shooting, the shooter created a Telegram channel, in which he referred to himself as “God”. He said he wanted to “kill a huge quantity of bio-waste” and then kill himself. Other messages he wrote in the channel were similarly unsettling: “I, as God, want you all to be my slaves. You will do everything that I want. I want all of you to kill more than 10 people and then kill yourself. […] I have returned to this world as a person to rid [the world] of you”.
The most bizarre fact about the shooter is that he was granted a firearms license just two days after he was expelled from college. He had complained about extreme headaches in 2020 and had multiple clear mental and physical health issues, but nevertheless managed to gain legal and easy access to a firearm. People can slip through the cracks occasionally, but when someone clearly unstable passes through “extensive mental health evaluations”, doubts are raised about the effectiveness and incorruptibility of the gun permit system.
The shooting could have been prevented multiple times: the shooter could have not been granted a firearms license, he could have been stopped by onlookers while he carried his rifle to school, or he could have been stopped by the school’s security, if they had any to begin with. Unfortunately, the school he shot up had no security due to budget cuts and private contractors becoming too expensive because of the pandemic. The only security was an elderly receptionist and a panic button, who was not able to stop a teenager armed with a Hatsan Escort PS and several bombs .
After he was arrested, a shocking video of the shooter tied to a chair in a jail cell was leaked to the press. The words he incoherently screamed at investigators while occasionally rattling around in his restraints were chilling: “I am fucking god. [I] just realized that, not fucking immediately. Two months ago, I realized that. And in the summer a goddamn monster awoke inside of me. I started fucking hating everyone. I’ve always fucking hated everyone! I hate them even more now!” He is currently undergoing psychiatric assessment in jail.
I decided to wait a few days to see how the government would react, and the results were as expected. Putin, still in self-imposed isolation, decided not to pay the victims (mostly schoolchildren and teachers) a visit, and instead sent a delegation of senators and talking heads to pose for photos in the hospital where the victims were recovering. Some media sources explain Putin’s unwillingness to pay his respects to the victims personally as a result of his fear of COVID-19, others say he’s superstitious and doesn’t want the bad luck from appearing near such places to affect his own life. The most realistic explanation is probably a PR one: Putin doesn’t want to appear next to tragedies, as it would negatively affect his image both home and abroad. Putin’s there when he needs to boast about Crimea and loosening corona restrictions, but when it comes to delivering the bad news, he forces regional leaders to do it for him.
The rest of the government apparatus wasted no time in exploiting the tragedy as well. Three letter agencies and Kremlin-affiliated media immediately started calling for draconic measures: a universal scheme to decrypt any chat app, even tighter gun control measures, even wider monitoring of teenagers on social media, even more money, time, and energy chasing ghosts. No effort will be made to address the rampant problem of bullying in schools, especially by teachers, nor will the dialogue be shifted to focus on proper prevention of such tragedies rather than just more mass surveillance.
The end result is the same. The victims get some money, the government gets to reach for draconian measures they’ve been thinking of rolling out for ages, and the real root cause of the issue will never be addressed. People will continue to fall through the cracks, and history will repeat itself again and again.
May 12 was declared as a day of mourning, but only in Tatarstan. Most schools in Russia, however, decided to hold their own minute of silence in support of the victims.