On fringe Internet forums devoted to followers of the notorious Columbine shootings, the word went out late last week: "Valentine's Day, it's going down," reads the cryptic post on the social-media site Tumblr. "It's almost here. The clock is ticking."
The post features two faces masked by stylized skulls and pays homage to the two American teens who massacred 13 people at Colorado's Columbine High in 1999. It closes with a link to a blog called "Freedom is a Loaded Shotgun."
That blog belonged to James Gamble, 19, whose body was found early Friday morning as officers pulled three rifles from his family's home in Timberlea, a Halifax suburb. Police simultaneously moved to arrest Randall Shepherd, 20, a friend of Mr. Gamble's from Halifax, and Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath, 23, from Geneva, Ill., at the Halifax Stanfield International airport. Mr. Shepherd was at the airport awaiting her arrival.
The two are charged with conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly scheming with Mr. Gamble to gun down people at the Halifax Shopping Centre on Valentine's Day. A 17-year-old from Cole Harbour was questioned and released. Police said that the American woman and Mr. Gamble had planned to kill themselves after the shootings.
A Canadian association that takes tips and keeps informants anonymous is being credited with helping save lives. "I don't even want to comprehend what would have happened," said Ralph Page, president of Canadian Crime Stoppers Association. "It was probably the most significant tip that we've ever taken."
There is speculation the tip may have come from Mr. Gamble himself, but Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais will neither confirm nor deny this, "In any investigation such as this there's always going to be speculation," he said at a weekend press conference.
Halifax police say the alleged conspirators were friends – and Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who called them a band of "murderous misfits," said he believed that Mr. Gamble and Ms. Souvannarath were corresponding online. But police are not defining them as a "terrorist group."
"Their friendship is not based on culture or ideology," Nova Scotia RCMP assistant commissioner Brian Brennan told reporters. He said he does not know their motivation.
Mr. Gamble recently uploaded "selfies" of himself brandishing a rifle and a hunting knife on Tumblr.
Over the past week, he increased the tempo of his postings – featuring German Nazis, U.S. serial killers and, especially, pictures of the Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. His blog is scored by heavy-metal and industrial music, featuring one song called Combat before closing out with Suicide and Death.
Police will not confirm that Mr. Gamble is dead, and his parents are not commenting. But neighbours say the family is in mourning.
Vince Appleton, an acquaintance, met James Gamble and Randall Shepherd about six months ago. He'd run into them at live music concerts – the last time he saw them was at a show at the end of January.
"We've never had any deep philosophical conversations over long periods of time or anything of that nature," Mr. Appleton said, adding he had no idea that they may have had a darker side.
He described Mr. Gamble, a "tiny" young man, as the "darker" of the two. "Randy was the more outgoing one. He was the one I actually hung out with a lot more because he would come out more often than James would."
He doesn't believe that Mr. Gamble, who lived at home with his parents, had a job. Mr. Shepherd, he said, worked at a call centre. The centre referred to Mr. Shepherd as a "former employee."
Around 10 p.m. Thursday, Mounties called residents of the street and told them to get into their basements as quickly as possible. An RCMP tactical team entered a residence around 1:20 a.m. and found a young man dead.
Investigators say there was verbal contact between police and the young man before his death, but "we do not have any evidence to suggest that he was shot by police."
Mr. Gamble grew up in the house. His parents had recently listed it for sale at $214,000.
Details of the listings show interior photos featuring all the fixtures owned by a comfortable family – including a dartboard, a blanket, a bathroom mirror that seem identical to ones shown in Mr. Gamble's blog.
He did his best to look menacing on the blog. Sometimes, he wore the stylized mask made popular in the Scream movie series. Other times, he showed his face frontally, as if he wanted the world to know his face.