Epilogue to a Tragedy

There are lots of symptoms of disaffection but no apparent tipping point in Kyle Huff's Capitol Hill massacre.

Perhaps the scariest thing about Kyle Huff is that we may all know someone like him. Quiet, isolated, shiftless, different. And mysterious. What did he do all day, anyway? In Huff's case, "life was a series of frustrations best characterized as just 'hanging out,'" says a new report on the life and death of Huff, 28, who killed six teens and adults and wounded two others March 25 at a home on Capitol Hill. He was unemployed, living with his twin brother, going nowhere fast. "His daily schedule was described as searching the Web at home, playing his drums from 4-6 pm, and listening to heavy metal music. At night, he would wander through bars and clubs, either alone or accompanied by his brother Kane. Even at raves—in a setting where acceptance is often cited as a major virtue—he was described as a wallflower who stood at the side of the room as the music played and ravers danced."

Friends and acquaintances were unable identify any concrete goals in his life. "There was no history of any long-term relationships with women; he was not dating anyone," says the report issued by a Seattle Police Department review panel that was headed by Northeastern University criminal justice professor James Alan Fox of Boston. "His one attempt to start a relationship a few months before the shootings was met with rejection despite his multiple phone calls that were not returned and flowers left at the young woman's door that were not acknowledged. The woman explained that Kyle was not her 'type.'"

By then, Kyle Huff, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound "gentle giant" from Montana, had begun planning to kill those responsible for his bleak existence—a life so unsatisfying that only mass murder could give it meaning, the panel report suggests. He had no specific victims in mind, just unnamed faces in a crowd—the young people who indulged themselves in the music and drugs of the rave scene, the "mean girls and sissy boys," as one witness describes ravers. "As early as the beginning of February," says the July 17 report, "he was seen by several employees at Studio Seven in downtown Seattle sitting in his truck watching as people arrived for the Robogirl rave. He sought information online as to upcoming rave events, and browsed websites about raves and the lifestyle of ravers." On March 23, he wrote an apparently undelivered suicide letter to his brother explaining the motive for his soon-to-be-launched attack, "defending society from the promiscuous rave culture that he perceived as dangerous and evil."

The following day, March 24, he attended a zombie-themed rave at the Capitol Hill Arts Center. Huff, "known by friends not to be particularly affectionate and somewhat uncomfortable with physical contact with acquaintances, would have found the frequent shows of affection among ravers rather off-putting or even phony," the report notes. "Additionally, the cute characters worshipped by ravers, such as 'hello kitty' and 'care bears,' would likely seem bizarre to him. More important, Huff would likely feel out of place in a culture where promiscuity and 'cuddle puddles' (a group of people lying together on the floor, hugging and massaging each other) are commonplace, especially since his own relationship history was characterized by few girlfriends and no long-term romantic/sexual relationships."

Additionally, the rave community in Seattle is generally known for its alternative gender roles, something that "would certainly have been antithetical, if not threatening, to Kyle Huff. Although his perception may have been colored by depression and delusion, he felt that the rave culture was 'raping' him," a term he had used a day earlier when writing his suicide note. "It is not unusual for a mass killer to focus his own disenchantment upon a group of people, and suggest that mass murder is the right thing, the noble thing, a duty to squash the enemy," the panel says. Although police were unable to locate any record that Kyle Huff had been treated for mental illness or taken psychiatric medication, it's more than likely that Huff was severely depressed and even somewhat delusional at the time he committed the mass murder.

At the rave, "Huff stood out from the crowd. He looked, dressed, acted, and talked differently from everyone else." One witness said he gave off bad vibes. Another "asserts that Kyle had previously attended raves and was publicly humiliated and ridiculed by some of the younger attendees. According to this view, ravers laughed at him because of his age, his shyness, his conventional clothing, and his hulking physical appearance. To these 'hippies,' [Huff's term for them], he was not young enough, not cool enough, not funny enough, not trendy enough. He didn't take their drugs, appreciate their music and dances, nor did he engage in their forms of deviant sex. Even among ravers noted for tolerance and acceptance, Kyle was an outsider, someone who did not fit into the crowd." The witness also contended that Huff was invited to the after-hours party at the home on East Republican Street "only because he was an easy target for his hosts' humiliating remarks. They were looking to have a little fun at Kyle's expense." (Other witnesses contradict that claim).

By 7 a.m. the next morning, while others partied on and some slept, Huff went to his truck and retrieved part of the arsenal of weapons he had bought. He had come to the conclusion that "now"—the word he emphasized in his suicide note and would spray paint on the sidewalk that morning as he walked back to the house—was the time. It wasn't an impulsive act, it was premeditated, something panel leader Fox has contended since he first heard about the shootings. Mass murders, his panel's report says, "are methodically planned, and carefully aimed at a specific target for specific reasons." The Capitol Hill dead were not specifically predetermined targets but were victims of opportunity. "The mass shooting reflected planning by the assailant, not a sudden eruption of rage. His actions were deliberate and methodical, not episodic."

Fox, who released his panel's report at a Monday night community meeting near the crime scene, told the audience that Huff "clearly targeted, stalked, hunted the rave community." The report recounted for the first time a detailed description of the shooting—the bloody scene, the screaming, the mad scramble to escape, and Huff's announcement that "I've got enough ammunition for everyone." What he apparently did run out of, however, was enthusiasm for more carnage. He appeared to be ejecting shells without firing and not actually pursing victims near the end. "It was as if he had lost interest in shooting any more, or it was just too much effort," the report said. "It may be that whatever satisfaction he had hoped to derive from the shooting spree was not forthcoming or had been satiated." As Huff stepped out of the house and saw a police officer, he put his weapon to his head and blew away much of his brain. "It is unclear what his next move would have been if he had not encountered a police officer when he got outside. . . . The suicide was apparently premeditated because of Huff's quick suicidal response when confronted by police. Obviously, his intent was not to be arrested or killed by police."

Unfortunately, there won't be a universally satisfactory explanation for the "tipping factor," as Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske called it at the meeting. Unlike cases of mass murder in which a single event—the traumatic loss of a job or a relationship—stands out as a catalyst, the report says, "in Huff's case there was none." There is only the slow slide of someone who lived an isolated life, giving "no clear-cut" tip-offs to regression. "To those who knew Huff well, his murderous behavior was uniformly seen as uncharacteristic. Without question, there were no clear warning signs that could have been observed, even by his twin brother. Though there were subtle signs of emotional trouble, the prospect of violence was beyond consideration."

But even after the murders, brother Kane refused to acknowledge Kyle might have been delusional and suicidal. The panel faxed a copy of Kyle's suicide letter to Kane, who denied the handwriting was his brother's, claiming Kyle usually employed script, not printing. Kane, the panel felt, was attempting to protect his brother. "From the beginning of the police investigation, Kane Huff was rather guarded and suspicious. He tended to defend his brother, even to the point of stretching credibility beyond reasonable limits. The letter is clearly embarrassing to the memory of Kyle, and so it is understandable why Kane would wish to distance himself from it. Eventually, perhaps when he felt more at ease with the purpose of the panel, Kane conceded that the letter indeed looked like his brother's handwriting." The panel adds that Kyle's relationship with his brother was "profoundly ambivalent. . . . Kane may also have been a source of frustration for Kyle, who never seemed to be able to match his twin brother's level of success, whatever the measure."

Ultimately, the panel concludes, "No one really knew the very troubled and depressed side of Kyle Huff. All people interviewed, including his mother and his brother, were genuinely shocked by news of the mass murder." And in the end, "many of the absolute truths about Kyle Huff's thinking and motivation will remain forever buried."


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