Graphic online culture debated after teen’s arrest

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Graphic online culture debated after teen’s arrest

A Seoul court on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for a 15-year-old boy believed to have been influenced by the Virginia Tech gunman for allegedly setting fire to a school classroom and then uploading clips of the incident on Youtube.

The case immediately ignited a debate over online culture after the suspect, surnamed Lee, was found to have told local media that he “wanted to leave behind a record like Cho Seung-hui.”

Cho, a Korean student, killed 32 people and injured 17 others on April 16, 2007, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, more commonly known as Virginia Tech. The incident is the deadliest shooting ever carried out by a lone gunman in the United States.

The Seoul Southern District Court granted an arrest warrant for Lee despite his age, saying that he posed a flight risk and had the potential to commit another crime.

Police added that they requested the warrant because they believed the suspect was preparing to carry out another crime.

According to authorities, Lee had one and a half liters (50 ounces) of gasoline, a lighter, two firecrackers and a knife in his backpack when he was apprehended on Monday night.

No one was injured in the classroom fire, sparked after two butane gas cartridges exploded; and the students, officials said, were outside for a physical education class at the time. The fire was extinguished shortly after it was set, though windows and furniture in the classroom sustained damage.

Police said that the suspect had admitted during questioning that he wanted to “punish people.”

Following the incident, two video clips were also uploaded onto Youtube. One shows the teen igniting the fire in the classroom, while a second, also believed to have been shot by Lee, broadcasts the reactions of the other students from outside the school.

“The students are looking out the window. It’s interesting. They’re running about in confusion,” a narrator says in the second clip. “I should have brought another butane gas cartridge.”

Lee also left comments underneath the videos. “I got so stressed out and got depression at my new school, and I tried to do this there,” one of the comments read. “But since I failed and was kicked out, I came to my old school to do it.”

According to police, Lee transferred to his current school in Gangnam District after his sister was admitted to a private high school there. Authorities said his performance in school was good enough but that he was having problems getting along with his peers.

It’s possible that Lee may have been influenced by a far-reaching Internet culture in which it is easy to find material glorifying or sensationalizing serious crimes, often part of efforts by select users to draw reactions.

Such content is easy to find.

In one blog post on the online web portal Naver, the writer declares, “I miss General Cho [Seung-hui], the man who pulled the trigger for discriminated Korean-Americans.”

Another post on an online forum references the Korean Army sergeant, surnamed Lim, who in June went on a shooting rampage at the 22nd Infantry Division’s general outpost in Goseong, Gyeonggi, killing five of his fellow soldiers.

“Five kills, no death. Sergeant Lim deserves the title ‘Lim Raynor’ given his shooting skills,” the comment reads, referring to the fictional computer game character Jim Raynor.

A simple online search also easily yields composite photographs of Cho and the Korean national flag, or Lim and the fictional StarCraft rebel.

“If the culture, both on- and offline, is lenient toward serious crimes, people can become less sensitive about violence, and it may undermine a law-abiding spirit,” said Lee Wung-hyeok, a police science professor at Konkuk University. “Since some extreme opinions may present mistaken fantasies to teenagers, posts on web portals and online communities should be monitored closely.”

BY KIM BONG-MOON, SOHN GUK-HEE [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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