Christopher Giles passed his hours plugged into the Internet, either gripping an Xbox controller or burning through YouTube videos. He was 23 and lived by himself in a two-story apartment complex topped with stucco in a northern Albuquerque neighborhood. It was an existence a police investigator described in a recent search warrant affidavit as “single, lonely and disturbed.”
According to the same document, obtained by the Albuquerque Journal, Giles in late January steered his 1989 four-door Lincoln sedan eastward. There was a .45 handgun in the car. He drove for 11 hours to Texas, a road trip that closed the distance between life online and the real world.
At 3:40 a.m. on Jan. 26, Giles pulled into a tree-lined block in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin. He walked to the back of a white house.
Giles knew the young couple living inside as millions of others did. On YouTube, Gavin Free, 29, and Megan Turney, 30, had packaged the most routine life moments — hiking in the woods, eating candy from Japan, playing with a cat — into hundreds of clips. The channels were front row seats to their lives, and the content drew in millions of viewers.
They were YouTube stars, two among the thousands who have created a new, large and cordless subculture of celebrity entertainment.
Giles fired the gun into the house, shattering glass so he could enter, police said.
The break-in would end with Austin police shooting and killing Giles as he attempted to leave the location. Although investigators initially stayed quiet about a motive, recent court documents suggest Giles made the trip to Austin because he had become infatuated and infuriated with the two YouTube celebrities.
“Giles developed a fondness of Turney yet resented Free for his lifestyle and success,” the search warrant stated, the Austin American Statesman reported this week. “It was apparent that Giles’ sole intent was to cause harm to someone who resides there.”
Free is originally from Britain, and he is co-creator of the channel “The Slow Mo Guys,” along with Daniel Gruchy. The channel has a cultlike following and over 10 million subscribers watch their slow-motion videos showing pranks, science experiments and test new technology. Their most popular video shows Free trying to deflate a 6-foot water balloon with his body. The clip has more than 169 million views.
The YouTuber was also an example of how a channel can take off. In May, YouTube announced “The Slow Mo Guys” would launch an original series for the company’s subscription-only YouTube Red service. Other creators involved in the exclusive ad-supported service include Ellen DeGeneres, Kevin Hart and Ryan Seacrest. Free is also a director and actor for the production company Rooster Teeth, which has more than 6 million subscribers.
Turney is known for being a cosplayer, a person who dresses in costumes depicting popular characters. On her YouTube channel, with more than 341,000 subscribers, she talks about anime and her pets, and she vlogs with her boyfriend, Free. The couple often also share photos of one another on their Instagram accounts to their combined 765,000 followers. Turney also has a large following on the live-streaming video game platform Twitch.
Being a YouTube pair can be lucrative. Couples who gain a large following by sharing their personal lives on the Internet can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorship deals, get sent on trips to exotic resorts and even have their followers pay to attend exclusive meet-and-greets.
However, with growing online fame, some YouTube couples have become targets of their obsessed fans. In September, Julien Solomita posted a video to his 1.3 million subscribers pleading with them to stop coming to the house he shares with girlfriend Jenna Marbles, who has more than 17 million subscribers.
“Don’t come to our house. Don’t come to our house. Don’t come to our house. … Please, just find another way to connect,” Solomita said in his video.
Vlogger Zoella and her boyfriend Alfie Deyes posted a home tour video of their five-bedroom luxury mansion in Brighton, England, to their combined 16 million subscribers. Since then, the couple has dealt with constant harassment. As the Independent reported, “They have seen fans peering over their garden wall and turning up at their home to take pictures and catch a glimpse of the pair.” Deyes called out fans for lingering outside their house and said in a tweet he installed cameras and would go to the police if necessary.
A fan’s obsession with a YouTuber has turned deadly at least once.
Christina Grimmie was an a cappella singer on YouTube who gained a fan base of 3 million and landed a spot on the sixth season of “The Voice.” She was fatally shot in 2016 while signing autographs for fans. The gunman, Kevin Loibl, had developed an obsession with Grimmie after seeing her sing on YouTube in 2015, according to the Orlando Sentinel. After shooting Grimmie, he shot himself and died.
On Jan. 26, Free and Turney were awakened by the gunshot and sound of breaking glass. The couple hid in the bedroom closet and called 911 while Giles paced the house, looking for the couple, the Albuquerque Journal reported. When he failed to find them, Giles left.
Austin police pulled up to the house as Giles was backing the Lincoln out of the driveway. He was ordered to stop. Police heard a gunshot, and one officer returned fire. Giles was pronounced dead at the scene. The .45 caliber handgun was recovered near his right hand.
The search warrant released this week indicates police found clues to Giles’s motivation on his cellphone. He had written thousands of notes on the device, many mentioning Free and Turney. The writings outlined his feelings for Turney and ire toward Free.
“I want Gavin Free to die alone, with no children,” Giles wrote, according to the affidavit.
Turney and Free both acknowledged the incident on their Twitter accounts on Feb. 12.
“Thank y’all so, so much for each and every kind message today and a special thank you to the @Austin_Police for their quick response that night and their ongoing support during this difficult time. Heart you guys so much,” tweeted Turney. Free wrote, “Hey everyone. I just wanted to say thanks for all the support and concern regarding the recent incident. It’s been a rough time for Meg and myself the last few weeks but we are doing ok. I want to give a huge thanks to @Austin_Police for the amazing response time. ❤️ you all.”
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