Mental health experts say it can affect vulnerable kids or those prone to violence.
WASECA, Minn. – The website boasts a long menu of horrors captured on video: impalements, hangings, suicides.
Click on “beheading,” for instance, and after agreeing to continue through a warning about explicit content, viewers can watch masked men in a purported Mexican drug cartel pull out a machete as they surround their kneeling victim. Under “execution,” a video shows the shooting of an alleged infidel in Iraq.
They are memory-searing, nightmare-inducing scenes for most people, but they are an Internet destination for some teens and young adults — including the Waseca teen accused of plotting a school massacre, according to his parents. The videos have raised worry among parents and caught the attention of some public safety officials. The Canadian government is charging the producer of one of the grisliest sites for corrupting morals.
While violence on screen and in video games might not necessarily provoke inappropriate behavior, mental health experts say, it can affect those who are vulnerable or prone to violence. The effects of true gore videos in particular may not be getting enough consideration from researchers, said Abigail Gewirtz, associate professor in the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. “We probably haven’t paid enough attention,” she said.
Difficult to forget
Fifteen miles from Waseca, in Owatonna, tattooed young men ran their painted skateboards over ramps and pipes at a skate park one recent evening. Most said they’d seen a video of an execution, brutal fight or bad accident.
“It’s, like, what kids get a kick out of nowadays,” said one skater in a white T-shirt and baseball cap, who didn’t want to give his name.
“It’s worse than it should be but you can’t stop it,” said another.
The videos are shared on social media or surreptitiously shown in school, in the back of a classroom on somebody’s phone or on a school computer when a teacher isn’t looking, they said.
Zach Beese, 21, watched a few of the videos — one of an execution shooting, another of a group of boys murdering another boy with a hammer. Other kids egged classmates to watch.
“They kind of, like … showed it to everyone,” Beese said. “They said, ‘Hey, check this out, it’s gross.’ ”
Beese and others said they watched only a few and that was enough to sear their memories. “You can’t erase ’em,” Beese said.
Waseca teen’s obsession
In Waseca, 17-year-old John LaDue’s parents say their son told them recently how he repeatedly watched the graphic videos as he also consumed himself with making secret, unfulfilled plans to kill his family and set off bombs at the local school. LaDue told his parents that he had become obsessed with the videos and started to like them, his father said.
David and Stephanie LaDue say they aren’t blaming the videos, but they can’t help but believe it was a factor in the darkness that crept into their son’s consciousness. They said they want other parents to be aware of what their children might be watching on smartphones and laptops, away from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers.
“I think people would like to think that this is really an aberration, and in most ways it is,” David LaDue said. But he was surprised to learn that, he said, “not only is it out there, but it’s been consolidated [on websites devoted to it] and popularized.”
His daughter, 18-year-old Valerie LaDue, first saw students watching gory videos on cellphones in the back of a classroom a few years ago, she said.
A group of boys were trying outdo each other by watching videos of increasingly violent deaths and showing them to classmates.