On the Ides of March last year, 31-year-old Springfield, Missouri resident Joaquin Roman got in his car, got on the highway and started shooting at people.
Casey Parish was driving home on Highway 65. She told the Springfield News-Leader she thought the popping noise was a blown-out tire. She looked at her dashboard. No indicator lights were on. She looked up and saw muzzle flashes from Roman’s car. Roman had been driving steady in front of her. Then he started swerving and shooting. Parish recalled he fired about seven or eight shots. She slowed down to gain distance between herself and the shooter. He got off the highway at Sunshine St. She kept going north. When she called 911, she was told others had reported the shooting as well. The first report had come in at 11:24PM that night.
Roman drove “from the south side of the city up,” Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams said at a press conference the next day. He fired from the car for five miles. Police found a Pontiac Grand Am that night with bullet holes in the door and blood in the driver’s seat. They later found the victim, who survived.
At around 11:40PM, someone called to report he’d crashed into a Kum n’ Go gas station.
Jayme Gilson was the night cashier at the store. He quickly realized the fireworks-like pops were gunshots getting closer.
“Next thing we knew, we hear a ping, ping, ping and a whoosh, the whiz of a bullet right past my ear,” Gilson told the Springfield News-Leader.
Roman walked in with a rifle. Gilson said the shooter announced he would kill everyone in the store. According to the News-Leader, Roman gave a speech “about being about being disrespected and mistreated throughout his life and wanting to inflict pain on others, but the gunman’s words were half gibberish.” Gilson thought Roman “was in the middle of a psychotic break.”
“Bring it on,” Gilson replied. He was hoping to paint a target on himself so other people in the store could escape. Roman put three rounds in Gilson’s chest. Gilson was shot two other times, once in the head, but survived. He managed to call 911.
“Please hurry, people are dying,” he told the operator.
Roman killed two shoppers and a store employee. Officers Christopher Walsh and Josiah Overton were the first on the scene. Roman was shooting out of the window. Walsh and Overton were hit immediately.
“We need somebody in the back. We got an officer down,” a policeman said over the dispatch.
The back door was locked when police tried to enter. They went in through the front. Police said they found Roman dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Officer Walsh, age 32, died at the hospital. Officer Overton survived.
Gilson recalled the carnage as he was carried to the ambulance.
“Wes Craven couldn’t come up with a better horror scene in one of his movies than what’s inside that building that day," Gilson told the News-Leader. “There were five bodies strewn around. The cordite is so thick in that place you could choke on it.”
“ANYONE HEARD FROM @ElRammstein88 ???” Roman’s neighbor, who went by the handle “Nemur,” asked on a Discord at 8:36 the next morning. “Guys…” he wrote anxiously. “Anyone???”
“I haven’t seen him all weekend,” Roman’s co-worker, a user named Carrot, replied an hour and a half later.
“Haven’t been on all weekend,” MrSir91 replied.
“Fuck. Has he been okay lately when you talked to him?” Nemur asked.
“Last time I talked to him he seemed fine but like I said it was last week sometime,” MrSir91 replied, adding “if it’s none of my business that’s fine but did something happen?”
“Yeah most likely. I don’t have all the information yet but I’ll update you guys when I know more. Keep him in your thoughts,” Nemur said.
“Nemur just walk into his fuckin apartment and see if he’s there. Or maybe carrot can see him at work or some shit,” Mentilman, one of the group’s admins, said.
“No jokes man, he’s in trouble,” Carrot said. “He’s not at work.”
Two days later, on the 18th, Nemur posted a link in Discord to a New York Times story about the shooting. He also posted a photo of himself with Roman at a sushi restaurant. The photo also appeared in a GoFundMe he posted in the group. It was called “Rammstein’s Wake.” It raised $120.
He also posted the phone number of Springfield PD homicide detective Corporal Matt Farmer and encouraged group members to give the detective any information they had.
For over a year, Roman was de-facto leader of this group of online gamers. They played military simulation or “MilSim” shooters–a niche subgenre of first-person shooter game where the mechanics are based as closely as possible on actual combat. Players sometimes use actual military strategy manuals and schematics to make the experience as realistic as possible.
As you might have guessed, Roman’s handle was “ElRammstein88.” On his steam profile, he tacked on variations like “SturmTiger “PTSD” and “Legion XIII”–which gamers usually do to signify the group or ‘clan’ they’re part of–but always with “Rammstein88” at the end. “88” is a common white supremacist signifier. The letter H is the 8th letter in the alphabet, so it means HH–Heil Hitler.
Mentilman, a moderator in Roman’s gaming group, spoke to LCRW on the condition we not name the group or even the games they played. Mentilman claimed other groups in the MilSim gaming community found out about Roman’s shooting and told him they feared bad press and undue scrutiny from law enforcement should their association with Roman get out.
“I don’t want anyone thinking the games did this. I want people to realize it was entirely him. That state of mind–it wasn’t the Roman we know. I don’t want them to judge the game community and I don’t want them to judge this community for the actions of–for what one person did,” Mentilman said.
LCRW has decided not to release the names of the specific games or the group Roman belonged to. However, this is not to protect the identities of the group nor the reputation of the game. A whistleblower and a MilSim game developer who consulted with LCRW on background both said that giving the group or the small community that plays these games more notoriety and infamy will likely attract more fascists and young people vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups. Therefore, it goes against LCRW’s editorial policy against uncritically spreading fascist propaganda.
On the night of the 18th, Mentilman, who was acting as the point person for dealing with new members and the press, broke the news about Roman to the rest of the group. Shortly afterwards, he spoke to LCRW. He declined to give his real name.
“I found out Monday when I was at work,” Mentilman recounted. “He hadn’t been on all weekend.”
“We do have people in this group that know him in person. Everyone was completely in awe,” he continued.
“I was in awe. I was taken aback. At first I thought he was one of the people who had gotten shot. Then I realized later reading the link that he was the person that did it. And that took me aback even more.”
“I want to be 100% transparent. The guy who did that is not the guy we knew,” Mentilman said.
“If I had lived near him, I would have stopped him myself if I had to,” he continued. “I feel terrible for the officers and terrible for the families involved. I really do.”
“We were all about supporting each other and helping each other get better in any way that we can–even though a good portion of each other don’t know each other in person,” Mentilman said.
Mentilman told LCRW that Roman was, “by some people, a very highly regarded player of the game.”
“We got in. We played the objective as best we could. We helped people in the game as best as we could. But he was a very good team player. He was all about his job and all about the game. That’s basically what he lived and breathed for–this game and his job.”
Mentilman said Roman didn’t talk much about his job in the group, but was “very focused on it and wanted to do better at it.”
“I’m sorry. My mind is all garbled,” Mentilman said at this point in the conversation. “Even the people who knew him ten plus years–in this group and in any group–didn’t see this coming.”
“I’ve only known him for a year myself, but we became good friends,” he said.
“He knew if he had said anything to us that we would stop him. I don’t live close to him but I could drive down or fly down to where he lives if he needs it. And that goes for most of us. We would sacrifice our time and money to help anyone.”
In some of the chats, members of the groups posted memes with Nazi soldiers. There was also a channel with a few photos of young men practicing shooting rifles together–Roman included. These were later scrubbed before LCRW could scrape the Discord server. LCRW asked if Mentilman recalled Roman ever making references to white nationalism or other kinds of violent extremism.
“He didn’t talk about any of that at all. I mean, you probably saw some military tactics–some training tactics as well. Most of that stuff he posted was to help us in our game,” Mentilman said. “But the ‘88’–has no reference to white supremacist or racist–he’s never made racist remarks outside of jokes. And anyone on the internet has made racist remarks as a joke.”
LCRW asked Mentilman if any of Roman’s comments seemed to go beyond the kind of ironic racism gamer culture is immersed in.
“No,” Mentilman responded immediately and forcefully. He paused. “I mean, not really.”
Roman had posted at least one piece of extremist-linked content in the chat: a BBC interview with fascist ideologue and Putin advisor Aleksandr Dugin. It was the last piece of content he posted in the channel. Roman had posted other interviews and news clips on the Discord before. Some of the content, such as interviews with prominent businessmen, appear to be tied to his work as a business analyst. Mentilman said he didn’t know where Roman got all his information from.
“I’ve seen a couple of tweets that were like ‘Oh I’d love to see the toxicology report on him.’ But as far as we knew, he didn’t drink unless he was going out to the bar with friends. He didn’t drink at home. He didn’t do any hard drugs that any of us know of. Obviously they’ll probably find he tested positive for THC and in this day and age most people do smoke pot,” he reflected.
“Everyone’s gonna try and find an outlet–left or right–to blame. And in my mind, and in the minds of most of the people in this Discord, we can’t even speculate what and why he did it–why he snapped–especially to something that severe. I don’t know–from reading that story and what other people have posted he started shooting at random people,” Mentilman said before pausing.
“I have been personally pissed at him for that and worried about any families involved.”
ROMAN’S SOCIAL MEDIA
Roman, according to his LinkedIn profile, was a business analyst–someone who uses data to help companies figure out the best ways to function. This could include everything from figuring out how to use new technology to how to manage employee behavior. He completed a certification program in 2018 for business analysis at UC Irvine. His last job was at Duck Creek Technologies in Springfield, Missouri. The company “provides software-as-a-service…to the property and casualty insurance industry.”
It does appear Roman was singularly focused on his job. His LinkedIn profile has hundreds of posts about different business trends and vapid marketing-speak quotes and memes about success. In the years leading up to his shooting spree, he shared several articles on LinkedIn with titles like “5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Manage a Team” and “What Roman emperors can teach us about business.” He shared content from ex-Navy SEAL and motivational business speaker Jocko Willink. One bizarre video showed Willink talking about how he got members of his team killed in Iraq in a friendly fire incident and how he “took ownership” of it because he was the commanding officer.
In the last month before his rampage, Roman ‘liked’ dozens of quotes on leadership, many from a LinkedIn page called “Leadership First.” His last comment on the website was on someone’s story about success after multiple failures. Roman simply said “Never give up.”
Roman’s Instagram is even eerier. Between constantly posting vapid inspirational quotes, screenshots from Spotify of whatever song he was listening to, and pretty normie memes, there were hints at his far-right leanings. His handle, of course, included the neo-Nazi dogwhistle ‘88’ at the end.
There are a few posts of him at an indoor gun range in 2018. One post was fanart of Trump as some kind of space marine with a kitschy 80s-looking futuristic gun and body armor and sunglasses. Another was a photo op at Politicon 2018 with Dr. Drew.
In 2018, he posted a quote attributed to Voltaire that read “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.” He captioned it with #threepercenter. The Three Percenters are a militia movement that have sort of diffused into a lifestyle brand for people on the far right. Three Percent-branded militias have engaged in numerous acts of hate including firebombing a mosque and acting as armed “security” for neo-Nazis during the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. LCRW could find no further evidence Roman organized with a Three Percenter group.
One notable quote, posted eleven days before Roman’s shooting spree, was from male supremacist ideologue and quack pop psychologist Jordan Peterson. It read “In order to think you have to risk being offensive.”
Another indication of Roman’s neo-Nazi leanings came from his constant and years-long posting on Instagram of inspirational quote-format memes from Warhammer–a tabletop board game and videogame franchise. The series depicts “The Imperium of Man”–meaning all of humanity–ruled over by a brutal, fascistic “God Emperor” whose crest is a two-headed eagle obviously alluding to the Nazi Reichsadler. It’s a favorite reference point for memes among the very online pro-Trump crowd. You may have heard of the phrase “God Emperor Trump.” Roman clearly romanticized the franchise’s “Imperial Cult.” Warhammer memes he shared had quotes like “In ancient times, men built wonders and sought to better themselves for the good of all. We are much wiser now,” and “Ruthlessness is a kindness of the wise.”
But these weren’t the most disturbing parts of Roman’s Instagram. There were several posts foreshadowing his murder spree and suicide. For a while in 2018 he was on a kick of posting memes with the hashtag Aries–the astrological sign. Some “Aries memes” he posted said things like “you might not be afraid to die, but that doesn’t mean you’re ready” and “the sooner you accept your impending expiration, the sooner you can stop trying to swallow the sun.” One image was just text. It read “Martyr me, I dare you.”
Another chilling image from September, 2019 was an animal skull with words spiraled around it. It was a poem that read “Remember me as you pass by/ as you are now, so once was I/ as I am now, so must be/ prepare for death and follow me.”
The last post that seems to foreshadow his murder spree was a ghostly image of a lone wolf gazing at some light in the sky through a foggy forest. It read “When my last breath has been taken, I hope that I will have lived and stood for what I believe in.” Roman posted it a month before his rampage.
ELEVEN YEARS OF NAZI GAMING
The earliest comments on Roman’s account on the videogame platform Steam were from 2009. It’s unclear when he was radicalized into neo-Nazism but aside from his behavior in his MilSim Discord, he was part of at least three explicitly neo-Nazi gamer groups. The earliest was called “Jagerlawl Kommand.” Roman was the sole administrator and it was founded August 8th, 2009 according to its Steam page.
“For the grateful Fatherland and glorious struggle. Honor and blood. I present to you, this Iron Cross,” Roman wrote on the group’s page in 2009. It was a quote from a game called ‘Company of Heroes.’ In 2017 he apparently had plans to bring the group back. It’s unclear if that happened.
Roman was also an admin on other groups around 2010 with names like “Rage Crystal” and “El Group.” Another Nazi-worshipping group was called “Sturmtiger.” Their “about” page just says “The victory went to the Allies, the soldier’s fame to the Germans.” Steam says they currently have 43 members. The Sturmtiger was a Nazi mortar gun mounted on a tank. The group appears to have gone defunct around 2015.
But Roman was part of a much more explicitly neo-Nazi group on Steam.
“Müllentsorgungsgruppe” or “Waste Disposal Group” was founded in 2018. Its name on Steam ends with two soliwo runes–ancient Germanic letters appropriated by the Nazi Schutzstaffel. It is an explicitly neo-Nazi gamer group. As of this writing, Roman was one of two members.
“Waste Disposal” said their purpose is “[v]igilantism against servers collaborating with Antifa.” ‘Antifa’ is short for ‘antifascist.’ Their ‘about’ page has a long, at times incoherent diatribe about videogame server administrators supposedly collaborating with antifascists. They claimed to do “sting operations meant to disrupt and inconvenience gameplay on complicit shill servers.” They said that they target game servers “that foster a “safe-space” for Politically Cuckrrect soy-boys.” In other words, they were very much literate in online fascist culture and tried to disrupt servers where their neo-Nazism wasn’t tolerated.
In addition, they kept a “Shill List” of servers that kicked players off for reasons they didn’t like.
“These libtard admins are politically backed by Antifa SJW’s who and describe patriotic players who show such concern as to counteract such misconduct as “toxic”,” the Waste Disposal Group about page reads, albiet incoherently.
Their plan was eventually to livestream their harassment campaigns against servers that slighted them, run a Patreon page and use donations to purchase new ID keys to the game when their accounts get banned for harassment. It’s unclear if this ever took off.
Joaquin Roman had been role-playing online as a Nazi for at least eleven years before his murder spree. By 2018 he had taken it to the next level by joining an explicitly neo-Nazi online group whose goal was to harass people he deemed antifascists and “social justice warriors.”
Mentilman was quick to tell LCRW that Roman never revealed himself as a serious Nazi–that he was just ‘joking.’ Any chance to question them further after Mentilman’s initial response was lost when admins kicked me out of the group and I was no longer able to message them.
But another person who spent countless hours gaming with Roman’s group said that was a lie.
Seth Matrisciano is in his late 30s. He told LCRW he has Crohn’s disease and spends a lot of time indoors on his computer. He calls himself a retired activist. Matrisciano said he was there in Sacramento in 2016 when the Golden State Skinheads and Traditionalist Workers’ Party held their infamous hate rally, stabbing several antifascists. As he held his phone in one hand and paced back and forth, gesticulating with the other, he told the FBI agent on the line he had a relative who was a sheriff. This was, as he said, personal.
Matrisciano broke MilSim games down. The games, he said, are 40 versus 40 and within that 40, teams of up to nine people play together as a unit. While Fortnite might draw millions of people at a time, these games only draw a few thousand.
“I was part of the group that runs the servers,” Matrisciano said. There were about a thousand people on the server he helped run. “Then we let other little groups come play with us. One of those was this guy’s group.”
“The disturbing thing is, some of these are guys he met online. Some of them, as you know, are his neighbors, co-workers,” Matrisciano continued. “So that just paints the picture of this loner who’s got no social life outside of work and his neighbors and he tries to draw those people into this crazy online game world he’s in.”
“The thing that I’m worried about is that group is still there and that group plans to give this little speech that he’d give at the beginning of every round and–that’s not okay. The shooter told me several times that he was collecting a group of people that were ‘hard to deal with,’ as he put it,” Matrisciano told the agent.
“What do you mean by that?” the FBI agent asked.
“Just a general psychopath type of person. His group of three or four dozen people–they swear up and down that he was the best squad leader ever and it was so much fun to play this game and they still say this stupid bullshit with him even though we all know he’s a monster.”
Matrisciano said in the larger group he helped manage, Roman was widely disliked.
“They would always bring up this guy’s name. They would always say ‘fuck him, he’s a psycho. We don’t like him. So you see where he’s treating the people real close to him really nice and he’s just a total bastard to everyone else,” Matrisciano recounted.
“Now he’s set up to become the legend in this stupid little videogame,” he continued. “That might sound insignificant to someone with an actual life, but for someone who eats, sleeps and breathes this crap, that would make a lot of sense.”
Matrisciano said he mostly talked to Roman in voice chats during gameplay.
“We’d be having a conversation in voice chat together for hours. These would be marathon sessions. I’d go to bed and sometimes I’d wake up the next morning and they’d still be on it.”
He said the original people in charge of Roman’s gaming clique left and Roman became the de facto leader.
“He would start to bring in people of his choosing,” Matrisciano recounted. “It’s a group of very weak-willed individuals that were bound together by one guy with an overbearing personality.”
Matrisciano sat in with the group often to try to keep an eye on them and “to be an advocate for them when people in the larger group would try to kick them out.”
“I’m the only one in the larger group that knew about the shooting and it’s been weighing on me,” he told the FBI agent. “Like I said, I’m a shut-in cripple and that’s why I’m fuckin’ around with these stupid online games.”
After the agent spoke for a while, asking for any other information, Matrisciano interrupted him.
“You can’t take them at their word for it. They’ll all say they didn’t see this coming,” Matrisciano said, “but after this happened, you can’t take them at their word for it.”
Matrisciano showed me some of the accounts he gave law enforcement. Posts on Roman’s Instagram appear to confirm the shooter was in Mexico City in December last year visiting family. One part of Matrisciano’s letter read:
Around holiday season, Roman went on a long trip to see his "well-off" family, but he'd still check in with his "clan" on "discord." I think I remember something said about Mexico City. When Roman returned, most of his clan had moved on to a different game that I have no experience with and when they asked Roman to buy the game so they could team up together, Roman mentioned being out of money and that he was unsure about being able to pay even his own rent.
The weeks leading up to the tragedy were a little strange, but nothing too out of the ordinary for someone who had a reputation for being one of the most hostile players on server. There was an incident on 03/04/2020 when one of the administrators on [the server] finally had enough of Roman and kicked him off the servers they ran for the game for 24 hrs. The administrator was found to be abusing his privileges and was demoted. When I saw Roman on the game again once or twice before the tragedy there was nothing strange except that he mentioned being out of marijuana and told me that I “needed” to send him some of the drug. I laughed at him and the subject did not come up again. Later on when I thought about it I realized that if I were a 22year-old kid with daddy issues and nothing to lose - like most of the guys in Roman’s clan - I might have asked him for his address and tried to send him some grass, but I’m almost 40 and I don’t stick my neck out for anyone. This was about five days before Roman went on a rampage. I also recall several times in March that went something like this: A player would question what Roman was doing in game, and Roman would snap back at them with something like “If you had ANY IDEA WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO RIGHT NOW you would…” This was new behavior and it made no sense at all to me at the time.
In another part of the letter, Matrisciano detailed–and speculated on–Roman being sent to a military boarding school in his teen years and his obsession with a film beloved by online neo-Nazis and male supremacists: 2019’s Joker:
As far as other details, you may or may not know that Roman was sent to military boarding school at the age of 14 in 2002. I can only imagine that the 14 year old Roman must have gotten in trouble for some kind of terrorist threat at school and was sent to boarding school as a rich-kid's alternative to continuation school. And while it might seem insignificant, or stereotypical, Roman was obsessed with the recent Joker movie that starred an actor named Joaquin. This is a movie about how a loser legitimizes his own existence through killing strangers.
Matrisciano mentioned LCRW’s investigation in his assessment of Roman.
I talked at length with a Berkeley-based investigative reporter who was looking for elements of extremism, and all I could offer him was that the entire discord/game/movie culture that Roman was engaged in was the influence of radicalization...That people who play games every free moment they have there is no time to learn esoteric "alt right" philosophy, no time to write the "manifesto" suicide note we come to expect from perpetrators like Roman. But this is the same set of influences that thousands of other gamers who have never hurt anyone feed off of day after day.. The only thing I could see that really made Roman any different was what a spoiled brat he was.
In my own opinion, Matrisciano is partly right in a way: the deeply bigoted culture Roman found in gaming spaces and used to control his group likely helped prepared him to carry out his murder spree. But I think there’s more to it.
Roman, according to a warrant, called his mother minutes before his shooting spree, going over mental health issues and talking about the idea that he had been “infiltrated” and asking her if she’d been “infiltrated.” The Springfield News-Leader framed this as a young man having a mental health crisis. Indeed, the warrant says that Roman searched for “mental health” and “tactical shooting” days before his rampage. But Roman had a long and serious history of fetishizing Nazism–even trying to organize against “antifa” online. Roman posted a contemporary fascist philosopher, Aleksandr Dugin, in his Discord group. He was a man with violent tendencies backed up by a violent ideology–and before his killing spree, he tried to acclimate people to his worldview.
Matrisciano spoke to LCRW at length on the phone and through text message about his time with Roman’s group. He painted a picture of an older man–Roman was 31 when he went on his murder spree–grooming young, alienated men, some likely in their early and mid-teens. He acclimated them to Nazism while couching his beliefs in the make-believe of the games they played and the jokes they told.
“There’s this weird dynamic [in a lot of games] where there’s this older male that the kids all want to look up to and impress,” Matrisciano told LCRW. He said tying videogames to real-world violence isn’t new, but what’s changed since Columbine is gamer-focused social media platforms like Discord, which let people form private groups where they can text, share images and videos and voice chat with each other–essentially building an insular community that a leader can manipulate and control. He explained:
“The trouble with it was these people knew how to have fun in this game in ways most other groups didn’t. The guys who like to play this game are grumpy, anti-social, end-of-the-day messes of aggression and aggravation. They’re not fun. This was one of the few groups that was. If you were in the car [in-game] with them making jokes, it was fun. And it was largely because of the shooter. The rest of them had really deadpan personalities.”
“It would just have this weird family feel,” he continued. “Like ‘I’m going on a road trip with my friends tonight and we’re just gonna be in the car for twelve hours and once in a while we’ll get out and shoot whoever’s in our way.’”
Roman would give a bizarre speech to hype his followers up before a match. Matrisciano said he’d “never seen anybody else do [something like it] in any other game.”
“It was almost like a prayer at the beginning of every match. That was exciting and thrilling,” Matrisciano said.
LCRW will not make direct references to the speech, but the general theme was about defending their base. The group chose a reference to the speech when renaming themselves and we don’t want to contribute to their being sought out and propagandized by neo-Nazis.
Matrisciano was a mediator between Roman’s group and the larger community of the server they played on. He was the only outsider they let in, but, he says, “I could tell that the rules were different when I was there.”
He recounted one incident in-game after he and the group “dismounted from the armored personnel carrier.”
“Alright guys, trigger discipline!” Roman said. Roman would often say this to his group during matches. It’s also a common thing you’ll hear at gun ranges–making sure you maintain basic firearm safety. Roman and others would, in fact, post themselves in the discord chat shooting real guns.
“We must be like Wolfen SS soldiers!” Roman shouted to his group.
“Hey! Hey! Hold on! Not all of us live in a free country like you do alright? You gotta have some respect for Russo [another player] because he doesn’t live in a free country!” Matrisciano said, alluding to the fact that neo-Nazi speech can legally be censored in many European countries.
“It was one of those times where I cut it off right then and there,” Matrisciano said, “but if I hadn’t have been there, who knows how many more fucking SS references he would’ve made?”
He said references glorifying the Nazi war machine were common from Roman. The shooter’s politics, according to Matrisciano, were on the surface.
In another incident, Roman named his group during a game “BMP for Trump.” When Matrisciano warned him the server had a rule to keep politics out of the discussion, Roman went on a rant about “the First Amendment.”
Matrisciano called Roman a groomer. “Whenever I would do something that impressed him, he would say ‘You belong with us. You don’t belong with the clan you’re in.’”
“Roman was grooming anyone who would listen into becoming part of his clan. Roman would consistently brag about having played the game for nearly 5000 hours, he gave a weird speech whenever he’d meet someone, and he’d casually reference German tactics from WWII,” Matrisciano wrote in an email to a detective.
“I distinctly remember a weird moment when the shooter went off about how much he loved the men in his clan and how he would do anything for them, but most of the time it was pretty mild. Does that make what happened less scary? Maybe it makes it more so,” he recounted.
Another time, Roman invited a woman in to play a match. She didn’t get along well with the almost completely male user-base of the server, but Roman delighted in the tension it caused.
“I’m all about challenging myself with difficult people,” Roman said.
Matrisciano said Roman was also trying to test the boundaries of an administrator who was “bending over backwards to mitigate” for Roman’s group–and he used the business analysis jargon he employed professionally to do so.
“I’m trying to teach him relationship management and mitigation with emotional intelligence,” Roman told Matrisciano.
“All these little things he did–he was making it seem normal to them when it should have been horrifying. If you were in Karate school and one of your classmates started mugging people, you would kick them out of karate school. That would be the natural attitude towards this if there wasn’t this weird, ritualistic mind control element to it,” Matrisciano reflected.
He said he thinks the shooter was less motivated by any specific hateful ideology than the environment his gaming created.
“I don’t think he was that radical…From my perspective, a guy who’s on this game for 12 fucking hours isn’t reading much; he isn’t watching Youtube videos. This is his fucking life,” Matrisciano said.
“I want to tell you something though–you play a game like that, you go to sleep–you’re still in that game. Maybe you wake up and maybe it’s a little more real. These games rewrite your damn dreams. And it’s been five days now since I played it–you know, since this bullshit–I’m still dreaming about this game.”
After Roman’s murder spree, the group wanted to remember the “old” Roman and ignore what he did. Matrisciano tried to get them not to.
“They don’t realize that what he did takes all of that away from them–that they already lost it. It’s gone,” he said.
Matrisciano urged the group to disband. He sent them links to other groups they could join up with. Instead, they either told him to stop trying to get them to quit or ignored him while debating how to rename the group.
“You, are the Sole person, who twice now has told us to [disband],” Mentilman said in the Discord chat. “So please, stop.”
“And I’m like, okay, that’s fine,” Matrisciano told me. “Have you seen that picture of the one dude in Germany who’s the only one that isn’t saluting Hitler?” Matrisciano saw himself in a similar role.
The group settled on a name that glorified Roman–a reference to his infamous pre-battle speech. Matrisciano left shortly after.
“I don’t want to talk to these people. I don’t want to maintain any conversations with them,” he said.
He recounted asking admins if there was any way to remove the group. This caused an uproar with not only Roman’s group, but Matrisciano’s as well. Someone from Matrisciano’s group said they were trying to “help Roman’s group rebrand.” Matrisciano said at the time I spoke to him that he was “basically in quarantine”–nobody in any of his gaming groups wanted to touch him after he spoke out.
Since LCRW first spoke with Matrisciano, he’s tried and failed to get Discord, server mods, other forums and game developers to care about the people who kept Roman’s legacy alive. Discord told him essentially “We’ll get back to you” and never did. Most others he’s tried to confront do the same. They seem to see this as bad press they just want swept under the rug.
Matrisciano stopped playing online games for a long while. He told me in December he checked in on the old server he used to help manage. He said the toxic culture Roman stewed in was still there.
“My problem with [the MilSim game Roman’s group and he played] is that it’s one of those groundbreaking, genre-defining games like PUBG was before Fortnite cloned it. There’s nothing else like it out there and it actually gets my mind off Crohn’s etc,” Matrisciano told me in December. “But eight months after the shooting, seeing that [the server’s culture] still hasn’t changed at all…now it’s pretty obvious.”
He continued, “75% of the server admins and 95% of the [server’s] players all thought it was cool to hate on the shooter, like that was just part of the game for them. like a high-school clique. then reading that article that quoted one of the survivors of the gas station about how the shooter was mumbling something about how no one respected him etc, and how his mother had been talking to him as he went off the rails about how his group had been “infiltrated."”
“Well shit,” Matrisciano concluded, “I don’t wonder what he might’ve been talking about–I was there.”