"I acted on impulse"

Community service and prison sentence demanded for student who announced a shooting

By Vincent Bongers

In The Hague last week, the Public Prosecutor demanded 120 hours of community service and a one-month prison sentence for the Leiden student who threatened a shooting at one of the university’s faculties last October.

On Monday 5 October 2015, twenty-one-year-old philosophy student Robbert van D. of Valkenburg, posted a message on the 4chan forum stating: “Gonna fucking do it. (..) Tomorrow at 10:05 I will open fire at the university of Leiden. Not gonna tell you which faculty, that’s up to you to guess. Shit’s going to go down, then I’m gonna go down. Going for the highscore…”

The police and the university took the threat very seriously and police protection was quickly dispatched to the university’s locations in Leiden and The Hague. No evacuation was initiated, to prevent panic.

After half an hour, Van D. removed the threat but the following day, he posted another one on 4chan that read: “Yesterday was a test, to get some parameters. Normies get ready to fucking drop :^.”

As the student had sent the messages from his own laptop, the police could trace its IP address to the home of the student’s parents. It then emerged that Van D. was at Catena, his student fraternity. He was arrested there and immediately confessed to posting the threats.

“I acted on impulse”, Van D. explained to Judge René Elkerbout. However, he could not explain what really drove him. “I felt a compulsion to post the messages. I was in a very restless mood. It was a very strange situation. I hoped that I could face the world more easily if I did it. I thought it would help me cope with my role in the world. I have no idea why I threatened the university and not, say, the government. Sometimes I get frustrated with the world. These were just angry shouts; I don’t hold a grudge against the university against the university. I didn’t want to take revenge on university staff or fellow students. There is no rational explanation for my actions.”

He added that “he had allowed himself to be carried away, in a very stupid way, by the forum’s culture of edgy humour” – Elkerbout described them as “sick jokes”. “I wanted to make cruel jibes at people like the rest of them, but it all went wrong.”

He also explained that he was suffering from some mental problems: “I felt restless, distrustful and suspicious and I hear voices calling my name. It feels as if there’s someone standing behind me, intent on harming me. It was a cry for help.”
He is currently treated by the local mental health services (GGZ), and uses medication to help deal his problems. “It’s quiet in my head again, now”, he said.

Van D. confessed to the judge that he actually felt relieved when the police showed up. “It felt good that I could talk about my problems.” So why didn’t he go to the police himself? “I was going to, but they got to me first. I didn’t go to university that day. I saw on Facebook and (Dutch news site) nu.nl that the faculty buildings were all under police protection. It made me nervous, but I wasn’t sure if it had anything to do with my 4chan message.”

The psychological evaluation of Van D. revealed that he suffers from a psychotic disorder and a mood disorder and consequently the psychologists consider him to have diminished responsibility.

According to his lawyer, Reinja Ottens, he was certainly not intending to carry out the threats: “He wouldn’t even know how acquire a gun. He just wanted to join in with something that 4chan considers funny.” She also pointed out that threats on 4chan should not be taken to seriously.
She requests that he be acquitted, and if that was impossible, that he is given a suspended sentence. Van D.’s mental health is improving with treatment. “My mind is clear again”, he said. Ottens claims that community service could disrupt the treatment.

The Public Prosecutor said that her demand had taken Van D.’s mental issues into account, but that “the impact on the university and the town was considerable. A lot of people watched the clock anxiously that day. What would happen at five past ten? Most of the time, nothing happens, but sometimes, it does.” The second threat and the fact that Van D. did not turn himself in to the police will also count against him.

The court announced that the university would not institute civil proceedings against the student. However, the police might still take him to court to claim compensation, as the costs of deploying the officers, a helicopter and dogs and keeping a negotiator on stand-by was about EUR 10,000.

The court will announce its decision on Wednesday 27 January.

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"I acted on impulse"

In The Hague last week, the Public Prosecutor demanded 120 hours of community service and …