A comment on the web bulletin board 4chan eerily warned of a school shooting in the Northwest on Wednesday, prompting speculation that the gunman responsible for Thursday's mass shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College may have indicated he was planning the deadly attack the day before.
“Some of you guys are alright,” an anonymous commenter wrote on 4chan’s /r9k/ board at around 5 p.m. EDT. “Don’t go to school tomorrow if you are in the northwest. Happening thread will be posted tomorrow morning. So long space robots.”
Many 4chan users replied to the original poster -- known as “OP” in 4chan lingo -- with encouragement. “DO IT,” an anonymous commenter replied. Another commenter gave detailed advice: “I suggest you enter a classroom and tell people that you will take them as hostages. Make everyone get in one corner and then open fire.”
The “OP” responded with gratitude and announced that he would be live-messaging his actions again on Thursday morning. “Thanks fam,” he offered. In response to the detailed instructions, he said, “Thanks. Keep me in your prayers.”
It is not clear how seriously to take any of these comments. The threads, some excerpted below, contain explicit, often confrontational, language. 4chan users are known to joke about violence and other dark topics. They often pride themselves on being social misfits who can vent their frustration on the online platform.
But the coincidental timing and specific nature of the message make it, as well as the comment thread, worth sharing.
4chan removed the comment thread from its site. 4chan’s rules forbid discussions or images that violate U.S. law. The site’s content moderators can remove posts or block users that they believe have violated the rules, but 4chan also regularly “prunes” old threads from the site.
4chan’s press office did not immediately respond to a request to confirm that it had removed the thread for violating the message board’s rules.
There is no evidence of the new comment thread the user promised to post on Thursday morning.
Authorities also appear to be unconvinced that the messages portended the attack.
It is nearly impossible to confirm the identity of a 4chan user, since they have anonymity by default. They can choose a username if they want, but it is typically not a real name.
In addition, only the site administrators know the user’s IP address. And even then, a skilled computer user could use a fake IP address.
But it would not be unheard of for law enforcement to use 4chan content to identify or prosecute a murderer. Oregon police arrested David Kalac for murdering his girlfriend in November 2014, after Kalac posted photos of her on 4chan and implied that he would soon be shot and killed by police.
Twitter users drew attention to the thread on Thursday as possible evidence of a warning from the shooter.
The news media soon followed up on the leads, asking notoriously insular and acerbic 4chan users for help identifying the murderer -- but they were, predictably, having none of it.
4chan users seemed to make the connection between the comment thread, however, continuing to respond to the original comment on an archived version of the thread on Thursday. They expressed surprise that the foretold attack had occurred. And their comments, whether sincere or intended as jokes, were mostly positive.
“GOOD SHOW OP / MAY YOU RIP IN PEACE,” one anonymous commenter wrote. “THIS IS DAY A HISTORY REEEE,” a user named MC RIDE said.
Below is an image of the moment on Thursday when users began to connect the thread with the shooting:
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