One of the things that really intrigues me about these sorts of cases is the choices made by the perpetrator leading to this horrible crime. An artistically talented guy choosing to go down a dark, decrepit path leading to not only his own demise but the cold-blooded murder of three others. In social norms it’s easy to slap a ‘crazy’ label on this case and blame things like the internet and crime-related subcultures for his actions, but at what point do we as a society stop and focus on what truly caused this?
This isn’t just a case of someones mind being poisoned by strange subcultures, it’s about what caused a talented 24-year old to have troubled, dark thoughts brewing in his mind.
For those who aren’t familiar with this crime, I don’t blame you. The crime, designed to gain infamy and notoriety, was quickly overshadowed by news stories of James Comey, the then director of the FBI who’s firing had taken over headlines at the time. Although media outlets in Pennsylvania covered the case extensively (along with a number of other news companies across America only to a mild degree), the case hardly gained the reaction Randy Stair was hoping for. At the time, I remember getting a news alert for the crime and researching it a couple of days later, but other than that small blip of attention the case never really met the likes of a Columbine or a San Bernardino level.
Despite this, the crime itself was a gold mine for psychologists and criminologists alike due to the amount of material left behind by the perpetrator. Dozens of hours of video footage was purposely left behind showing not only the artistic talent of Randy Stair, but also the thoughts and feelings he shared with his camera in the knowledge someday we would see it after he was gone.
Living in Pennsylvania all his life, Randy Stair grew up alongside an older brother (Jeremy) and his two parents. Although his childhood was prone to mild bullying growing up, Randy didn’t seem to deal with a great amount of it until he reached high school. It was here that he felt like an outcast, a guy that didn’t fit into social norms and didn’t have those friendship circles that we normally do. Feeling alone and depressed, he used the video-sharing platform YouTube to express himself in comedic and expressive ways. One of his videos titled ‘Mr. Horse Head Meets Mr. Wooden Alligator‘ managed to get it’s way onto an episode of ‘=3 (Equals Three)‘ by popular YouTuber Ray William Johnson which was viewed by millions.
Randy himself didn’t gain massive success from YouTube, but he did have a small cult following from his later animations he devoted a lot of his free time to. It was on YouTube that Randy managed to feel happy thanks to the attention he sought after through his videos. He made friends, fans and most importantly he had a getaway from the depressive world he saw around him.
In the tapes released shortly before his death (which he dubbed the ‘suicide tapes’), Randy couldn’t hide his deep-vented anger towards his father. Whilst he held some hatred towards his mother too, most of his frustrations came from his dealings with his father who he accused of berating Randy. Stories were told of Robert Stair constantly berating his son for not finding a full-time job and not meeting expectations his father wanted. Their relationship was strained and it is obvious from these tapes that Randy’s anger and self-loathing came from his father’s supposed displeasure from him. This sort of makes sense as to why Randy chose not to express himself outside of the confounds of his room. A quick Google search will show you Randy’s room being plastered in My Little Pony memorabilia and EGS artwork, all signs of Randy’s expressive interests. But outside of that room, in his daily routine, he was just another human, trying but failing to fit into the mould his father sculpted.
If you’ve already delved into this case and done your research, you might’ve stumbled across a number of references to the animated show Danny Phantom, a show surrounding a half-ghost superhero who sets out to save the world of villanous ghosts with his supernatural powers. Don’t worry, you’re not going off-track.
Towards the end of his high school years, Randy came across the show and although it wasn’t foreign to him, he began to take a great liking to it. One character in particular, Ember McLain (Episode #11, ‘Fanning the Flames’), personified a lot of the feelings Randy held. The character was a villainous musician who craved attention (thus gaining power from people chanting her name). Before she died, she was an unpopular high school girl who dreamed of being a rock star. After being stood-up and waiting all night, she returned home the next morning to sleep but succumbed to a house fire. Randy himself felt a connection to the character due to his lack of popularity and loved the song ‘Remember‘ which the character sung.
It was the character’s demise that truly resonated with Randy, who also felt that his death would bring mass attention to himself. In the show, Ember’s power is gained from people who say her name, and in her episode she attempts to gain this power after a world-wide broadcast of the song ‘Remember‘. I undoubtedly believe Randy’s attraction to the character pushed him to want that same infamy, one he would not get from his normal life. Something extravagant must happen for Randy to get the attention both he and Ember craved.
In many news reports like this, it’s easy for the reporter to link their actions to those seen years prior in events such as the Columbine shooting and Virginia Tech, and in some cases like this it’s true. When I hear stories of kids being influenced by incidents such as shootings and massacres, my first thought is why. Why did they stumble across that influence, and what kept them interested? Many people who are in a dark place reach out for any sort of sense of normality. Just the knowledge that it’s not only you experiencing that depression can be reassuring to someone, and hearing that someone else was dealt the same hand as you is a blessing.
In this case, I wasn’t surprised that Randy was influenced by the Columbine killers at all. But this is where news and media outlets move away from the reason why and quickly deem it an influence. If they had looked further into these two cases, they would see that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris also felt lonely and unpopular. They were also bullied and felt inferior. They both expressed themselves through video making. And most of all, these perpetrators felt the need to be infamous.
The happiness Randy felt from video making did not last as long as he hoped, and was soon overcome with the depressive state of his outside world. In the ‘suicide tapes’, Randy himself was surprised he hadn’t committed suicide yet, admitting he never thought he would’ve reached 2016. By this time, he began to devote much of his time towards the ‘Ember Ghost Squad‘ animations with the help of his online friendships. Through his animation work he made friends that would help him with the animating and even voice acting for the characters he created. Although Randy voiced the character of ‘Andrew Blaze’, a character based around himself, he also relied on others to help with voicing other characters. In some instances, according to his tapes, Randy had been let down numerous times by fellow animators.
In his final video, entitled ‘Andrew Blaze’s Westborough High Massacre Video‘, Randy begins the video with a wall of text shaming the animators who ‘shoved [him] aside’. The video itself is unfinished in places due to the lack of help he received from ’10+ animators’, according to Randy.
It was here that Randy again felt inferior to those he felt happiest around. His only escape from his lonely, unsuccessful life was online, but once these issues began to rise, he lost that feeling of comfort. It became another place where he felt powerless and inferior due to his friends he did not get full support from. A supposed friend of Randy’s named ‘Skater’, said that Randy was ‘a perfectionist’. In order to get that craved attention, he needed to impress, and thus was devoted to making what he deemed a perfect video. The fact that he was unable to complete the video in time and it was left with numerous errors shows what sort of state Randy was in. He no longer felt the need to complete the video properly. His last place of solace crumbled around him, leaving behind the depressive world he so desperately wanted to avoid.
After five months of trying to piece together his final video, it was uploaded on June 8th, 2017. After blaming the animators for the missing shots, the video presents the ‘Ember Ghost Squad‘ seeking revenge on a ‘Westborough High School’. The massacre is interrupted at points by homemade videos of Randy showing off his firearms, showing a small tour of his workplace, and explaining his future actions. His ‘suicide tapes’ are released shortly after. Not long after, Randy barricades the exits to Weis Markets in Eaton Township and proceeds to start a killing spree. Three people are killed before Randy puts the gun in his mouth and fatally shoots himself.
In his last video, there is a clip of Randy flipping a coin to determine his own fate – suicide or a massacre. The coin lands and the choice is for the latter which he deems as fate. This itself brings to light one of Randy’s most concurrent tendencies. Randy Stair does not take responsibility for any of his shortcomings. The tapes that he left behind provide many hours of explanations and reasoning to the actions in his life, but at no point does Randy truly blame himself for these problems.
It’s true that some moments in his life were unavoidable for him. His lack of full-time employment is an issue for many struggling teenagers in America. The fact his online friends could not help him was not his own choice obviously. But Randy Stair has a tendency to pass blame onto others before himself. The fact he was a perfectionist may have made him uneasy to work with, or his selfish nature that spread its way into other people’s lives. For instance, Randy once purposely drove for hours in order to avoid his mother on Mother’s Day. He mentioned that he purposely avoided his family on festive holidays because he simply didn’t want to. It’s these instances that leave me questioning how far Randy actually went to work on these instances in his life. There were opportunities for him to make amends with some of the negative parts of his life and yet he didn’t attempt to at all.
Throughout my research into Randy Stair, I’ve had an inkling in the back of my mind that he shows multiple signs of being on the autism spectrum. Whilst we can’t be 100% sure until someone with actual medical experience investigates this, I myself feel comfortable to assume Randy displayed a lot of characteristics associated with autism, more specifically the ‘pathological demand avoidance (PDA)’ behaviour. PDA is an autism profile that explains tendencies such as social interactions, behaviours and interests.
‘People with a PDA behaviour profile share difficulties with others on the autism spectrum in social communication, social interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests.
However, those who present with this particular diagnostic profile are driven to avoid everyday demands and expectations to an extreme extent. This demand avoidant behaviour is rooted in an anxiety-based need to be in control.’
– The National Autistic Society (link)
It’s important to note that autistic tendencies aren’t the same for each person on the autistic spectrum as each person has a varied amount of tendencies. With Randy Stair, I feel that a lot of the traits listed match his personality and behaviour that we can see from his tapes:
- ‘Resists and avoids the ordinary demands of life’
This section focuses on the behaviour surrounding normal daily life.
‘Demands might include a suggestion that it’s time to get up, go out of the house or join an activity. At times any suggestion made by another person can be perceived as a demand.’
This very much correlates with Randy’s perception of his father. Although we aren’t exactly sure how demanding Robert Stair was, this could explain why Randy felt such a hatred towards his father when it came to his father’s expectations. This part in Randy’s life could have been a simple query on how his job search is going, and maybe suggesting certain choices for him. For Randy, this could’ve been seen as a demand from his father and thus fuelling his anger towards him. Those with PDA usually end up lashing out and causing outbursts due to their anxiety reaching a certain degree.
Another attribute of resisting the ordinary demands of life is that it is common for those on the autism spectrum to ‘withdraw into fantasy’. With Randy’s obsession of Danny Phantom and other animated shows, this doesn’t seem too far from the truth.
- ‘Appear sociable, but lack depth in understanding’
Randy Stair seemed to be fine in social events despite his shy and awkward persona, but this isn’t out of the ordinary. He was capable of being social, however the underlying attributes towards his social behaviour do fit this section of PDA.
- ‘be unsubtle and lack depth – they can be misleading, overpowering and may overreact to seemingly trivial events
- have difficulty seeing boundaries, accepting social obligation and taking responsibility for their actions’
As we’ve seen in Randy’s anger towards his fellow animators, he does not handle these sort of scenarios. Instead of reasoning with them and taking into account his own faults, he’s quick to pass blame onto others and try and feel superior in these sort of events.
- ‘Comfortable in role play and pretend, sometimes to an extreme extent’
As you know, Randy had a great obsession with withdrawing into fantasy. He felt his most comfortable when surrounded by his animations and online friends. It got to the point where he created his own fantasy world, donning the persona of ‘Andrew Blaze’, and using his last days in this world to praise the ‘EGS‘ and give subtle warnings of the shooting.
For the media it’s so easy to pass blame onto other subjects of interest like video games, subcultures and a terrible upbringing, but it’s cases like this that show how wrong they can be. Randy wasn’t a victim to modern-day influences nor was he a victim of the world around him. As much as he tried, Randy Stair simply could not control his life and pushed it away until he could no longer hide from it.
He took no responsibility for his actions and ultimately took the lives of three other people in order to gain any sort of control. His selfish desire to live happily was the fault of no one but his own. Had Randy taken responsibility for his actions and realised that the world is not always on your side, Victoria Brong, Brian Hayes and Terry Lee Sterling would be at home today with their families.
Thankfully, Randy Stair did not achieve his final wish. Months of hard work creating characters and a story to accompany his selfish take on the world did not achieve the infamy he craved. Instead, he will be remembered in that small Pennsylvania town as the boy who couldn’t take responsibility for his own life and ultimately needed to take the lives of three innocent victims to get that final feeling of control.
The research for this blog was done by me personally via news articles, podcasts and the ‘suicide tapes’ released by the perpetrator prior to his crime. If you wish to learn more about this case, I’d highly recommend the Sword and Scale two-part podcast surrounding this case. I’d also recommend the links used in this blog, and also looking into the released tapes themselves.