Killer Sought Solace Online
In the weeks before 19-year-old William Freund donned a cape and mask and went on a shooting rampage in his Aliso Viejo neighborhood, he reached out for help on the Internet.
He wrote more than two dozen online messages in October, asking for a “real life” friend and saying he was contemplating suicide. He also threatened to start “a Terror Campaign to hurt those that have hurt me.”
The messages paint a portrait of a troubled young man struggling with Asperger’s syndrome, a neurological disorder described as a variant of autism that hampers people’s ability to interact socially. He revealed his anguish and frustration on a website, wrongplanet.net, used by people with Asperger’s.
In a prophetic message written Oct. 16, about the “Terror Campaign,” he also said, “My future ended some time ago.” Other postings included “Everybody hates me” and “I feel like I need to kill myself.” He also disclosed that he had bought a 12-gauge shotgun and had gone online to buy ammunition.
Members of the online community for Asperger’s tried to reassure Freund and offer suggestions, and volunteer moderators tried to find his parents.
Their efforts failed.
On Saturday morning, Freund put on a dark cape and paintball mask and entered a neighboring house, killing Christina Smith, 22, and her father, Vernon, 45. He then shot at a house across the street and tried to fire at a neighbor, but the shotgun jammed. Then he walked home and killed himself with the shotgun.
Orange County sheriff’s spokesman Jim Amormino said investigators did not know what sparked the shooting or why Freund targeted the Smiths. “We’re looking into his mental health at the time of the shooting,” he said.
An autopsy completed Sunday showed that Freund died of a single gunshot to the upper torso. Toxicology tests are being conducted, but Amormino said, “We don’t expect drugs and alcohol set off his bizarre behavior.”
What may be the best clues to what set him off could be the messages Freund left behind in postings on wrongplanet.net. The website was created by people with Asperger’s syndrome and intended as a place they could post comments, share experiences and talk to one another in online chat rooms. It also offers articles about the disease but is not intended to be a authoritative medical source.
Those with the disorder are often described as loners who have trouble communicating and may not fit in socially.
To the outside world, people with Asperger’s are sometimes merely presumed to be rude, although the condition is caused by a neurobiological disorder. Depression and suicidal thoughts often afflict people with Asperger’s, but violent behavior is rare.
The syndrome affects more males than females, and although the number of people with Asperger’s is unknown, some experts estimate that 1 in 250 people has at least a mild case. Experts agree that it is subtler than autism but can often be emotionally crippling.
Freund tended to keep to himself, although he worked for a while repairing computers and fixing viruses, said his former employer, Forrest Fuster, 24, of Mission Viejo.
“He was incredibly smart, but he lacked social skills severely,” Fuster said. “He was a very deep thinker.”
In his online profile, Freund described himself as an only child of adoptive parents, a student at ITT Technical Institute in Anaheim who enjoyed “computers, role playing, fantasy, pugs, Food, guns.” He graduated from Aliso Niguel High School in 2004, the same school as Christina Smith, who graduated in 2001.
His online messages were filled with spelling and grammatical errors, alternately depicting a self-aware person desperately seeking help and a frustrated, angry man who wanted to lash out at others.
On Oct. 15 he said he had tried suicide before. “Ive Tried Everythink from asphxia, To lethal gases, Inert Gases To full suspended hanging ... my minds Sick With depression.”
The next day, he said that if he made it to Halloween, he planned to equip himself with body armor, an airgun and a laser to “just scare any little kids that try to destroy my pumpkin ... and guess what I have A real shotgun. It’s gona be a fun Halloween,” he wrote.
On Oct. 19, he asked for references to a mental hospital, saying that he needed counseling and social skills training. He also said he had no friends. He wrote that he wished he had some, emphasizing it with 75 exclamation points.
Alexander Plank, 19, the founder of wrongplanet.net, said volunteer moderators who monitored messages had been concerned about Freund’s postings and took action.
“People at our site tried to contact his parents, but apparently there are a lot of Freunds in Orange County,” Plank said. There are 38 Freunds registered to vote.
Moderators also blocked Freund from posting links to pro-suicide websites, said Plank, a freshman computer science major at George Mason University in Northern Virginia.
After seeing articles about the weekend shooting, Plank said, he called the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. By Monday evening, some of Freund’s messages had been removed from the website.
The sheriff’s office declined to provide information Monday about how Freund obtained the shotgun. Freund’s messages on the website reveal a fascination with guns and detail his purchase from “a bunch off old farts at a gun center.” He also wrote about searching for “the most powerful specialized ammo,” which most shops apparently wouldn’t carry.
Details of Freud’s medical treatment were unavailable Monday. In the messages, however, he said his health was deteriorating because of a new medication. “I’m not getting any better and nobody can figure out what it is.” He said he wanted his parents to switch doctors but that they were happy with his treatment.
His parents were not home Monday, and employees at their Laguna Hills printing business said they had not heard from them. Members of the Smith family were also not home.
Blake Melcher, 21, of Laguna Niguel said many students had picked on Freund since middle school. “It happens at all schools, where some kids are always picked on,” he said.
In one online message, Freund said he had “no friends, all enemies” and bought the shotgun for home defense.
Contributing to this report were Times news aide Sheena Tahilramani and staff writers Susana Enriquez, Christine Hanley and H.G. Reza.