An American teenager
Disaffected, isolated and inexplicably angry, Geddy Kramer seemed to fit the profile of a mass shooter. So why was it so hard to predict — and prevent — his rampage?
By Alan Judd | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Geddy Kramer favored video games set in dystopian worlds. He listened to music with angry lyrics. He dabbled with drugs. He desperately wanted to have sex. He watched porn on his iPhone. He saw a therapist for depression. He grieved, mostly in silence, over his parents' divorce.
He was an American teenager in the 21st century.
One day in September 2012, Kramer sat in school, quietly mocking his classmates. And plotting to kill them.
"These … idiots have no idea what I'm writing," Kramer typed into a journal on his phone. "I wish I could kill all of them, but there's just not enough time and so much to do. And, like Dylan Klebold, I think I'll have some followers. Maybe a few at least. All I have to say to them is kill those that stand in your way."
Police photos from the scene
- The FedEx loading floor where several Molotov cocktails were found.
- The exterior of the FedEx warehouse.
- Geddy Kramer parked his 2006 Honda Civic at the FedEx guard shack.
- Robots conduct their serach of Geddy Kramer's car.
- The suicide note that Geddy Kramer left in his car.
- Blood is smeared on the floor next to a printing device.
- One of the Molotov cocktails that did not explode.
- One of the Molotov cocktails that did not explode.
- Shells were found on the floor by the conveyor.
- A knife was left dropped on the floor.
- A holster carrying more Molotov cocktails, none of which detonated.
Kramer killed no one in high school. His grasp for notoriety, his attempt to emulate Klebold and Eric Harris, the Columbine High School shooters, didn't happen until almost a year after he graduated. On April 29, armed with a shotgun and homemade explosives, Kramer shot and wounded six people at the suburban FedEx warehouse where he worked. He was a would-be spree killer who took only one life. His own.
Many rituals follow mass shootings in the United States, prominent among them a search for meaning — for the hidden clues that would somehow make sense of why the shooter snapped; for the missed signals that, if detected in time, might have forestalled the tragedy.
But a close examination of Geddy Kramer's final months finds no obvious cause for his rampage. It suggests no dramatic descent into madness. And, perhaps most important, it reveals nothing that Kramer did that necessarily would have alerted anyone to the looming assault.
Kramer's case shows the difficulty of predicting and preventing acts of mass violence, and of understanding what drives its perpetrators. Common traits, including some form of mental illness, tend to define spree killers, experts say, but those same traits also stand out among many more people who never commit a violent act.
"If you predict every isolated, troubled young man is going to perpetrate a mass shooting, you would be wrong thousands of times," said Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University's School of Medicine who studies the nexus between violence and mental illness.
This examination is based in part on 600 pages of police reports, along with 33 compact discs of witness statements, crime scene photographs, and data from Kramer's phone: text messages, his Internet browsing history, and his electronic journal, sarcastically titled "The Thoughts of a Nobody."
Kramer's writings, though often juvenile and profane, betray no delusional thinking or paranoid fixations. Rather, they reflect the banality of adolescence, returning again and again to Kramer's indignity over how others viewed him — as such a loser that he appeared exactly once as a senior in his high school yearbook — versus his exalted self-image. Certainly, Kramer had problems. But the fact that he responded to them with extreme measures may be all that distinguishes him from any other disaffected 19-year-old.
Kramer left behind two mysteries, equally unsolvable and unnerving: why he harbored such rage, and how he concealed it with such ease before he erupted in violence.
'OUTCAST OF THE WORLD'
By the second month of his senior year at North Cobb High School in Acworth, Geddy Kramer so neatly fit the profile of a schoolhouse shooter as to be a cliché. He was obsessed with Columbine. Fascinated by guns. Emotionally isolated from friends and family. He even dressed all in black.
Such a characterization comes easily with hindsight. At the time, Kramer outwardly displayed few, if any, signs of violent tendencies. Even his interest in Columbine could have been interpreted as merely academic.
"Every time someone brings up my future, I smile a little bit and just think of how much fun 41913 is going to be. … I'm going to go out guns blazing."
Early in the fall semester of 2012, his forensic science teacher assigned a research project on a notorious crime — "of course," Kramer wrote in his journal, "Columbine."
Kramer was 4 years old when Klebold and Harris killed 12 other students and a teacher before committing suicide together in their Colorado high school. Yet he seems to have identified closely with the killers. In his journal, he described them as heroes.
"Crime, huh," he wrote about Columbine on Sept. 21, 2012. "The only crime was that the death toll wasn't higher."
To teachers and other students, the only problem apparent in Kramer's life at the time involved turmoil in his family.
The week before school started, Kramer's mother, Tracy, pleaded guilty to a drunken-driving charge. She had been arrested after crashing into a stop sign and registering a blood-alcohol content of more than twice the legal limit. Then, about a week into the school year, Kramer's parents signed papers initiating their divorce. Kramer and his brother would live with their father, Scott, in the family home in Acworth.
Neither of Kramer's parents would comment for this article.
Kramer's friends later said he was devastated by the divorce, although he rarely spoke about it directly. He saw a therapist and was on an antidepressant for a while. Regardless, he barely addressed the family drama in his journal.
He focused instead on the coming spring — on Friday, April 19, 2013, the day before the 14th anniversary of Columbine.
"This is hilarious," Kramer wrote on Sept. 26, 2012. "Every time someone brings up my future, I smile a little bit and just think of how much fun 41913 is going to be. … I'm going to go out guns blazing."
Two days later, he outlined how he hoped to kill as many classmates as possible.
He would launch the assault in the building that houses North Cobb's math department. "Few entrances, no poorly placed flanks, plenty of rooms and nowhere to run!!!!"
He would chain the outside doors shut to prevent escapes. He would plant dummy bombs to distract any on-campus police officer who responded to the gunfire. He considered leaving notes that said, "Too late."
"I'll show up around 11:45 after transit to 3rd period," Kramer wrote. "Set up and make sure lunch doesn't pop up before the fun begins."
"I'm so excited. It'll be one hell of a day."
His anger only intensified as the school year progressed.
In his journal, he fantasized about sexually mutilating certain girls with a rusty straight razor. He wrote graphically about wanting to maim a particular student and turn him into "an ugly freak." An Oct. 24 entry referred to a list of classmates he wanted to kill. They apparently were among those he perceived as taunting him for being a virgin, a subject so sensitive that he considered not waiting until the Columbine anniversary to carry out his assault.
- FedEx employees console each other after the shooting. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
- Police officials gather at the scene of a shooting. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
- FedEx Employee Lisa Aiken, in purple scarf, reported seeing the gunman running just before hearing gunfire. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
- FedEx employees gather are greeted by loved ones in an adjacent parking lot. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
- A Cobb County police officer speaks to FedEx employees and family members. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
- FedEx Employees and family members gather nearby. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
- Law enforcement officials get organized in front of the FedEx building. (John Spink / AJC)
- FedEx employees console each other after the shooting. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
- Hundreds of authorities from multiple agencies descended on the FedEx warehouse. (John Spink / AJC)
- Authorities bring out boxes evidence. (Hyosub Shin / AJC)
- A Cobb County police officer checks ID badges of FedEx workers arriving for work the next day. (John Spink / AJC)
"I am the f—ing outcast of the world," Kramer wrote on Oct. 26. "I'm sick of it. I'm sick of being the weird one. I'm sick of being the one everyone looks at and laughs. I hate this place. I hate this world."
Kramer took care to keep his plot secret. He had stopped using a paper journal — which contained "plans, drawings, angry rants," he wrote — because a family member might have discovered it in his bedroom. Once he referred to an earlier electronic journal that he erased following "a close call."
He wrote very little in the journal between late fall and early spring. During that time, a critical detail consumed him: how to get a gun.
He grew up in a home with no firearms, and he didn't have the money to buy one. He hoped to get enough cash in graduation gifts. Or maybe his grandparents would help, he wrote.
As April 19 approached, he still didn't have a gun but was proceeding with final preparations. He put together a document that he headed "Final Requests," which served as a combined suicide note, manifesto, and last will and testament. In it, he ranted about preserving the separation of church and state and called for public executions of religious extremists.
"At my funeral," he wrote, "keep the f—ing religious people away."
And: "Nobody blame this on music, media, friends, et cetera."
And, finally, he didn't want his father's girlfriend at his funeral. "Only my real mom."
He finished that document on Wednesday, April 17, two days out. He seemed ready to kill, and ready to die.
Then — nothing.
"I know I was supposed to do it by now," Kramer wrote on April 24, "but some things came up."
'YOU'RE WASTING AWAY'
A few weeks after he graduated in May 2013, Kramer typed up ideas for several video games. One, "Chastity," was set in an apocalyptic universe called Bioshock. The hero — named Kramer — arrives on an artificial island "made for those who have lost interest in their living conditions," he wrote. Because of a drug called Lotus, "everyone is insane and violent." The game required Kramer, the character, to fight his way to the island's northern tip. "Easy," Kramer, the creator, wrote, "if he didn't live at the southern tip."
Reality soon set in. With no plans to attend college, Kramer needed a job. A former classmate who already worked at FedEx offered to help Kramer. He started work there in August.
The warehouse stretches more than a quarter-mile along Airport Road in Kennesaw, across from Cobb County Airport-McCollum Field, 25 miles from downtown Atlanta. It was no more than a 15-minute drive from Kramer's home.
The job was mind-numbing. Kramer worked overnight, stacking boxes into delivery trucks. When one truck was full, he moved on to the next. Truck after truck, night after night.
Kramer slept in the daytime and had little to do with most of his friends from high school — except, apparently, to pester them about drugs. By early this year, they had tired of his continual requests.
"You used to be cool and funny, but now nobody wants to have anything to do with you," one friend texted Kramer on Jan. 20, after he asked her to help him buy hallucinogenic mushrooms. "You're wasting away. … You shut everyone out after graduation and now all you want from us is drugs. We all wanted what was best for you."
Kramer deflected her scolding: "lololololololol. … Eye-opening and hilarious."
At home, Kramer hung a black comforter over his bedroom window and duct-taped the edges to the wall to seal out sunlight. He communicated with his father via texts, in curt responses to mundane messages.
"I wish I could kill all of them, but there's just not enough time and so much to do. And, like Dylan Klebold, I think I'll have some followers. Maybe a few at least. All I have to say to them is kill those that stand in your way."
"Don't forget we have haircuts today at 12:30," his father wrote one morning in March 2014.
"Cancel mine," Kramer replied, "and do not wake me up."
He barely saw or talked to his mother.
"I miss you boys so much," she texted Kramer and his brother in January this year. Kramer did not answer.
Kramer's 19th birthday was March 28. The day before, his mother invited him to a birthday lunch.
"I sleep during the day, sorry," he texted back.
She said she had taken off work to spend the day with him.
"I'm going to work now," Kramer wrote, "so I'll catch you later."
"OK," his mother said. "It's OK if you are mad at me, Ged. I have had a total breakdown since I moved out. I don't want you boys to see me like this. Living without you boys has nearly killed me."
Kramer didn't answer for five minutes.
"I'm not mad," Kramer wrote, finally. "I've been living in isolation for a couple years now and (that) fact along with this job and a lack of sleep has melted my perception on reality. I hear things that aren't there and am always angry and dad has taken a very lazy approach to solving the problem."
His mother responded: "Geddy! You have to let me help you! You are in danger!"
At that moment, though, her attention shifted. She ended her message by criticizing Kramer's father for being "too involved" with his girlfriend.
The next day, she texted a birthday greeting: "You were the best thing that ever happened to me."
They never spoke again.
'YOU'RE THE VICTIM'
On March 30, two days after his birthday, Kramer drove to the Walmart store in Acworth, about five miles from home, and finally bought the object of his desire: a 12-gauge shotgun.
He chose a Mossberg Model 930. A semi-automatic with a five-shell capacity, it would feed a new shell into its chamber after each shot. A review by the website The Truth about Guns described the weapon as a "compact and quick-handling defensive shotgun." Walmart's price: $499.
The day he brought the gun home, Kramer prepared a final checklist for an attack. He broke it down into three categories: weapons (the shotgun, four Molotov cocktails, a knife and at least 50 shotgun shells); equipment (including a bandolier for the shells and a pouch for the Molotov cocktails); and miscellaneous (one item — "suicide shell").
The next morning, Kramer texted his supervisor at FedEx: "I'm taking a vacation day today."
What Kramer did with the gun for the next four weeks is not known. He had earlier identified three possible hiding places, and he apparently told no one he had bought the weapon. In his journal, he wrote nothing — at least, nothing he saved — about planning to use the gun on his co-workers.
A shooter's playlist
Kramer had "an attitude problem" at work, his supervisor later said. He often showed up late, and had been reprimanded after a colleague reported that he pointed a laser beam from a handheld package-scanning device into her eyes. Others thought Kramer was awkwardly flirting with the woman.
He complained of hearing voices in his head, while claiming he had suffered brain damage from insomnia, his supervisor told the police. He quoted Kramer as saying, "You know you're crazy when you feel that burning in the back of your head."
But the supervisor told the police he had thought Kramer was joking. He never repeated Kramer's comments to his superiors.
On Saturday, April 26, nearly a month after he bought the shotgun, Kramer skipped work. He spent much of that weekend online, using his phone to view a strange mix of hard-core pornography, comedy and music videos, and articles about mass killings.
In one hour-long odyssey Monday morning, Kramer viewed 12 porn sites, researched carrying cases for Molotov cocktails, and Googled "workplace shootings."
He later spent 40 minutes looking at sites that documented mass killings before taking a break to watch music videos. One was for a throbbing, intense song called "Breathe," by The Prodigy, a 1990s rave and electronica band.
Come play my game
You're the victim
Come play my game
Finally, Kramer searched for "Newtown" — the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Early Tuesday morning, April 29, strong thunderstorms were amassing across Atlanta's northern suburbs. A heavy rain fell, and the wind gusted to almost 35 miles per hour. A friend texted Kramer about 3 a.m. to warn him about lightning on the way to work.
Kramer told the friend, who also worked at FedEx, that he was quitting his job. He complained about the work, about the pay, about the managers who chastised him for slacking off but who didn't do much themselves.
"I've got a plan," Kramer texted, "but it's secret."
"Well, if it involves killing everyone at FedEx, can you at least tell me what day not to come in?" the friend wrote back. "LOL."
"LOL," Kramer replied.
Geddy Kramer shot six people during a rampage April 29 at a FedEx warehouse in Kennesaw. All survived their wounds.
Christopher Sparkman, a security guard, was the most seriously injured, shot in the abdomen at close range. He left the hospital in July after numerous surgeries and is scheduled for another operation this winter. He and his family have documented his recovery online at christophersparkman.com.
Thomas Peyton was shot as he ran toward an exit. Doctors removed 57 shotgun pellets, including one lodged in his eye socket.
Melissa Shadow was shot while directing other workers to evacuate. She received injuries to her back, kidney, sides and arms.
Tim Huntley, shot from behind while running away, was wounded in his right arm, his back and the buttocks.
Sontega Gardener was shot while trying to run toward safety. Doctors found pellets in both legs and in her neck and back.
Brandyn Stonebraker was evacuating the building when shotgun pellets splayed across the front of his body.
'HE'S SHOOTING PEOPLE'
"1675 Airport Road! I've been shot!"
The first call to Cobb County's 911 center came from Christopher Sparkman, an unarmed security officer at FedEx. He was in the guard shack, almost finished with his shift, when Kramer parked his red 2006 Honda Civic just outside the front door. Kramer was dressed in black, with a bandolier full of ammunition strapped across his chest and a belt holding four Molotov cocktails and a knife with a 10-inch blade buckled around his waist. Carrying his new shotgun, he walked inside and immediately shot Sparkman at close range in the abdomen.
It was 5:53 a.m.
Kramer crossed a driveway to enter the sprawling warehouse, jogging past one sign that boasted of 47 consecutive days without a workplace injury and another that said weapons were forbidden on the premises.
He seemed to fire at random, apparently not targeting anyone in particular, witnesses said. He shot wildly toward some employees as they ran, but aimed the gun directly at others without pulling the trigger. Of the five people he shot inside the warehouse, four had wounds in the back or the back of their legs.
Kramer slowed down only to reload. Along the way, he dropped his knife and the Molotov cocktails, unused.
He spoke to no one.
Shotgun blasts echoed through the warehouse as thunder from the storm outside shook the roof and walls. About 150 employees were in the warehouse at the time, and several said later that when they heard people screaming at them to run, they thought a tornado was bearing down on the building.
Calls poured into the 911 center: "He's shooting people," one employee reported. As another telephoned for help, he continued yelling at co-workers: "Let's go, let's go, let's go! Come on — go, go, go, go, go!"
The first police officer arrived at 5:55, quickly followed by dozens more. Six teams of officers entered the building to confront the shooter amid the labyrinth of conveyer belts and chain-link storage cages.
Kramer already had made his way to the loading dock, surveillance video would later show. He stopped at Bay L 1-5, climbed onto the back of a half-loaded delivery truck, and leaned over his shotgun. He placed his mouth over the barrel and, for a long moment, stood still. Then he fired.
Kramer fell backward, as blood, bone and brain matter spattered the boxes. The police discovered his body at 6:33 a.m., 40 minutes after the shooting started.
At 8:16, after news broke about a shooting at FedEx, Kramer's mother sent an urgent text.
"Geddy," she wrote, "where are you?"
Geddy Kramer's final words came in two handwritten suicide notes, one in his car, and another in a plastic tackle box in his bedroom. Kramer gave no concrete reason for his rampage in either note, except to cite "issues." But his list was maddeningly generic: "mental instability, depression, frustration, sexual isolation."
In both notes, Kramer struck something of a pose: world-weary and tough, laying claim to his place in a line of notorious killers.
"I'm a sociopath," he wrote. "I want to hurt people."
And: "Maybe a part of this also is the fact that a life lived in infamy is better than (being) just another nobody."
But Kramer ended up as insignificant in death as he had been in life.
When the police interviewed FedEx employees who witnessed the shooting, only a handful said they recognized his face.
Even fewer knew his name.
Presentation by Pete Corson.