russell frantom

How this teen jailed for a Columbine-esque plot used art to turn his life around

Seven years on from his arrest in Indiana, Frantom says he sorry he scared people but doesn’t believe he would have gone through with the plan.

RUSSELL FRANTOM WAS an extremely troubled teenager.

While he wasn’t exactly an outcast in school, he definitely wasn’t the most popular kid and found it hard to connect with people.

He had always had an interest in true crime but at 16, he lost his grandfather -the only guardian he had ever had – and in his grief this interest became an obsession. His particular interest was in the Columbine High School massacre.

With no one in his real life to turn to, Russell took to the internet where he came into contact with a man called Lee Billi, who would later be hit with child pornography charges.

They had a number of conversations on a MySpace page about their wishes to pull off a similar mass murder at Russell’s Indiana high school. In a diary found at his home, the teen wrote that he wanted to get “instant recognition” for shooting a record number of people at the school.

I could kill anyone without feeling sorry because society sucks.

Less than a week into these conversations, police arrested the teenager, seizing over 100 knives at his home and a number of illegal snakes.

“If I try to describe myself the way I was back then, it’s almost like I’m talking about a different person,” Frantom, now 23 years old, told this week.

“I can’t really make an accurate answer of what I was thinking but I feel that, in a way, I was probably trying to set myself up to be caught – because I posted these things publicly. To me, now, it looks like I was crying out for help but I wasn’t aware of the positive outlets.”

‘I’m sorry I scared people’

He said when he found out the man he had been speaking to was “a complete mutant”, it was a huge shock for him. The thoughts of what might have come of his discussions with Billi have been a great source of guilt for him and he has suffered nightmares over the years.

“I am happy that I was arrested, I wouldn’t take it [being arrested] back now, I don’t know where I would be and I’ve learned a lot.”

Though he says he is grateful he was caught, Frantom says he does not believe he would have gone through with the plan.

I do apologise for scaring people. I can’t see myself doing something like that, I think I was just really in the wrong mindset, I was really frustrated and needed someone to talk to. I didn’t have anyone.

Externalising his darkness

He was sent to a juvenile detention centre for one year after being prosecuted with conspiracy to commit murder. Since then, he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is currently on medication.

His real therapy, however, is his art. He always had an interest in art from a young age and discovered he could use his creativity to help express his emotions and make some of the darkness inside him external.

Russell Frantom Russell Frantom

“I don’t like the term ‘artist’, I like to call myself an expresser. A lot of the things I did after I was released were quite dark. Things I drew before I was arrested were dark too. I guess some people are just born that way.”

But I realised I can be a helpful tool. It helped me a lot to get dark thoughts out of my head.

While he has come a long way in the last seven years, Frantom still has his struggles and would not describe himself as a happy person.

“I don’t think I’ve ever painted a happy painting,” he said. “In everything, no matter how bright the colours, I can still see the truth and sadness in it. I have my ups and downs but I think it’s moreso that I just work better when I’m unhappy.”

Russell Frantom Russell Frantom

Perhaps surprisingly, the 23-year-old is still friends with several people he went to school with and many former classmates have come forward to support him since he started gaining notoriety for his art.

“I had correspondence with some of the teachers as well, when I was arrested. I don’t think they ever looked at me as a bad person. I was not in my right mind, I was sick at the time.”

His own experience has given him a real insight into the minds of young offenders and he said it makes him unhappy to see young people, sometimes as young as 13, get life in prison.

“I don’t understand it at all, your mind isn’t developed and you’re not in your right mind – you won’t be for years.”

He said he would like to be able to work with young people in the future, to help troubled teens who feel the kind of hopelessness he did when he was 16.

First published 08/03/2015

Read: The mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold is writing a book>

Read: Spain arrests man ‘plotting Columbine-style massacre’>

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