One day last week T and I were chatting about a film his form had watched in PHCSE (not entirely sure that’s the correct acronym but for the uninitiated it’s a Health, Personal, Citizenship and two other things lesson that they have once a week) and how he had found it all a bit shocking. T doesn’t really do “shocked” so I was keen to hear more. He went on to say that it was about a teenager who had been groomed over a gaming server and subsequently murdered by another, slightly older, teen. I wrongly assumed that this had happened in the USA. Not sure why I thought that, but I imagined I would have heard of the story if it had happened in the UK. (Again, not sure why as I rarely read newspapers or listen to the news.) I think what he found shocking was that the perpetrator was another teenager and not an adult. We all tell our children from a young age not to talk to strangers and when we think of paedophiles or people ‘grooming’ children we imagine older, loner types or 80’s TV stars.
Coincidently, last night K and I were just contemplating going to bed when the TV announcer introduced a “shocking true life story of a teen murdered by another teen” or words to that effect. It was the film that T had seen in his lesson. I quickly hit record on the zapper but was so immediately engrossed in the film that we ended up watching it there and then. I am very glad we did as I suspect it would have been one of many programmes that we end up with on our planner, that we never get chance to watch and over time gets deleted without ever being seen. I am very glad that I have seen it and I am very glad that T has seen it. All teens and pre-teens (old enough to cope with the content) should be shown this film.
If, like me, you haven’t heard of this horrific case, then the victim was a 13 year old boy who, along with a group of friends, began using a server to play Minecraft and other games on (not being very technical I don’t really know how these things work but I gather that there are servers all over the world that host games and allow gamers to use their storage to play on). They played alone at home in their rooms but together in an online world, a virtual games-room, and chatted through headsets and generally just messed around. Sounds very familiar doesn’t it? This is the world our young people live in and this is how they interact and we have to just accept it. The boys involved in this case appear to be normal, fully-functioning, progressing at school, well-rounded kids and at one point early on in the film I said to K that I actually felt quite reassured that these boys were so well-rounded in spite of the fact that they were “gamers” and spent a fair amount of time online. I restrict T a lot. And I mean, a lot. He rarely plays online and only ever with 2 other friends – actual friends that he spends 6 hours a day at school with. He doesn’t have a console in his room and has to ask to use the one in the lounge. (Please note that I’m not saying this is the right way or that I criticise any other parent for how they deal with this side of things.) But even so, I felt reassured.
As the film progressed, the boys were joined online by another teen that they didn’t know. He was slightly older than them and didn’t live in their area. In fact he purported to be living in New York where he had his own company and the server they were using was hosted by him, etc, etc. They took him at face value, although some later became suspicious. He joined in their online gaming and spoke over his headset to them and befriended them. He then began isolating one boy in particular (the victim) and talking to him privately, encouraging him to ditch his friends, saying they had slagged him off behind his back. Typical grooming behaviour. He tapped in to family issues and encouraged him to distance himself from his family. When it looked like the family were winning he lured the boy to his flat and murdered him.
The victim was 13 and the perpetrator was 18. The victims friends are all now around 15 and were filmed talking about the events leading to his death. Understandably, it has had a profound effect on them all. It could have been any one of them. They have lost a friend in the most horrific way. They feel they should have done more to stop it happening.
The victim’s mum is broken. She described herself as a “shell of a person who is only living for the sake of the younger ones”(the boy’s siblings). She tours schools and tells her son’s story. I think it should be on the curriculum. I know that this is a very rare crime and that this is all the more shocking for that very reason but it happened and it could happen again. Can we ever really know who our kids are friends with? We can’t meet every person they come into contact with at school or online. We can only make them aware and this shocked T enough to talk to me about it. That can only be a good thing.
(The programme was called Murder Games: the Life and Death of Breck Bednar and is on iPlayer.)