Before Elizabeth Lecron bought black powder and hundreds of screws for a pipe bomb, authorities say, she wrote letters and sent Nazi propaganda to a man who had carried out the kind of act she revered: Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof.
Lecron, 23, was charged with transportation of explosives and explosive material for the purposes of harming others and property, the U.S. attorney’s office in the Northern District of Ohio said Monday in a news release. Investigators painted her as a would-be mass killer inspired by perpetrators of the past — who had made the chilling additional step of reaching out to the man who killed nine black church parishioners in a hate-filled shooting in South Carolina.
“This defendant bought black powder and hundreds of screws that she expected would be used to make a bomb,” Justin E. Herdman, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said in the news release. “Through her words and actions, she demonstrated that she was committed to seeing death and destruction in order to advance hate.”
Authorities began scrutinizing Lecron’s actions this year after one of her associates “expressed a desire to conduct a violent act,” the release said. That’s when they discovered her adoration of mass murderers. She had posted “voluminous” numbers of pictures of the Columbine shooters and Roof on the photo-sharing site Tumblr.
After that account was shut down because of its objectionable material, she started a new Tumblr profile. She called it “CharlestonChurchMiracle.”
It included photos and GIFs of mass murderers like Ted Bundy, Nikolas Cruz and Adam Lanza.
But her actions weren’t just anonymous virtual musings, authorities said. She and the associate had flown to Denver to visit Columbine High School, and around the same time she had “began corresponding with Roof and attempted to send him Nazi literature,” according to the news release.
The Toledo Blade reported on Tuesday that her boyfriend, Vincent Armstrong, was detained in connection with the case.
Michael Tobin, a spokesman for Herdman, declined to confirm the news over email but said that Armstrong had not been charged.
Roof, 24, a self-described white supremacist, was sentenced to death after being convicted on federal hate crime charges for killing nine black parishioners at a historic Charleston church in 2015.
During Roof's trial on the charges the following year, jurors and relatives of the victims heard his lack of remorse for the horror he unleashed at the Emanuel AME Church. After gunning down parishioners during a Bible study, Roof would write in a jailhouse journal that he did "not regret what I did," adding: "I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed."
He was convicted on all federal counts in December 2016. Not long after, he was sentenced to death. He also faced murder charges in state court, but in April 2017 he pleaded guilty to avoid a second trial.
In Lecron’s case, the FBI used undercover agents and confidential sources to figure out what she was planning. In August, authorities say, she said she wanted to commit an “upscale mass murder” at a bar in Toledo. The bar, she allegedly told the informant, had only two exits, which would be a tactical advantage when officers arrived.
She also said she wanted to form a team of anarchists and possibly damage a livestock farm to set the animals free, investigators said. She told an undercover agent that her workplace could also be a target. Investigators say her chosen weapon of mass destruction was a pipe bomb.
This month, investigators said, Lecron grew more serious about building a bomb and agreed to buy the explosive powder necessary to make it. According to authorities, on Dec. 8, she entered a sporting-goods store and bought two pounds of Hodgdon Triple Seven Muzzleloading Propellant. She then went to another store in Perrysburg and bought 665 screws, some as long as three inches.
“So I guess I’ll talk to you when the deed is done?" she told an unidentified FBI source after making the purchase. “I’m very excited.”
Her family members told the Toledo Blade that they were shocked by the accusations against her.
“Nothing like that has ever happened in our family,” grandfather Robert Lecron told the Blade. He said he hadn’t seen his granddaughter in a year and a half.
“I guess I’m going to have to see it through a little bit and figure it out,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to Elizabeth.”
Experts who have researched mass killers say they tend to have certain things in common, including a sense of victimization and patterns of seeking negative attention. They also seek the infamy that can result from carrying out such attacks.
Some mass killers have also researched their predecessors, looking to their actions as well as the response to the carnage they unleashed, experts have found. Researchers have found that people who carry out attacks in public places had often concerned the people around them, in some cases making references to previous attackers, according to a Secret Service report released this year.
Paul E. Mullen, an Australian researcher, studied five mass shooters for a 2004 article and found that they spoke unnervingly of their desire for fame. One spoke of “going for the record” with his violence, while others spoke of knowing that they would die during their attacks but believing that “death brings them fame together with an aura of power and evil.”
These references have also become macabre links in a chain. According to authorities, a man accused of opening fire in a Tennessee church last year, killing one person and wounding six others, had a note referencing possible revenge for the Charleston attack. A man accused of killing a Virginia reporter and cameraman on live television in 2015 also allegedly referred to “the church shooting” as well as the Virginia Tech attacker who killed 32 teachers and students in 2007. That attacker, in turn, had made a reference to the Columbine shooters, investigators say.
Grim videos released earlier this year captured Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged with the school massacre in Parkland, Fla., speaking of his “goal” to kill “at least 20 people” during his attack. He also referred to himself as “the next school shooter of 2018.”
In other cases, attackers carefully looked at previous mass killings and spoke gruesomely of wanting “to beat” them.
According to authorities, a teenager who was charged with opening fire on an elementary school playground — killing a 6-year-old — had written about studying other school shooters and documenting how many victims they left behind. He wrote about his hopes to “most likely kill around 50 or 60. If I get lucky maybe 150.”
Eli Rosenberg contributed to this report.