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Russian Teens’ Online Chat About School Massacre Leads To Forced Psychiatric Treatment

 Alyona Prokudina was taken to a psychiatric clinic.
Alyona Prokudina was taken to a psychiatric clinic.

MOSCOW -- In the early hours of August 24, officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, arrived at the home where 14-year-old Alyona Prokudina lives with her parents.

They confiscated the girl’s laptop computer and other possessions, her family says. They also detained the teenager and took her, involuntarily, to a psychiatric clinic.

The reason, according to her sister Daria Glinskaya, is that Prokudina was part of a social-media chatroom dedicated to the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in the United States. According to authorities, a plot to attack a local school was discussed.

Prokudina’s was one of several homes raided this month in the Siberian region, according to lawyers involved in Prokudina’s case and law enforcement officials cited by media outlets in Krasnoyarsk-- part of a broader clampdown across Russia following a spate of school attacks in recent years.

According to TVK6, a local news agency, nine teenagers in all, including Prokudina, have been involuntarily placed in a psychiatric clinic in Krasnoyarsk over the past week.

All are accused of belonging to a closed community on the VK social-media platform that was dedicated to the Columbine shooting that took place in Littleton, Colorado, in April 1999. Two teenagers armed with guns and explosives killed 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves.

Irina Miroshnikova, the Krasnoyarsk Region children’s rights advocate, told RFE/RL that psychiatric evaluations of minors in Russia are illegal without the express permission of their parents.

In the case of Prokudina, she said, “it’s hard to tell whether this permission was given voluntarily or involuntarily, through intimidation and threats.”

'They Started Turning The Place Upside Down'

Glinskaya told RFE/RL that officers from the security service, known as the FSB, cited Prokudina’s link to the closed community as justification for their search.

“They showed some papers, apparently a search warrant,” Glinskaya said. “Then they started turning the place upside down.”

Eric Harris was one of the two teenagers who massacred 13 people in Littleton, Colorado in 1999.
Eric Harris was one of the two teenagers who massacred 13 people in Littleton, Colorado in 1999.

She said that her mother unwittingly authorized Prokudina’s forced psychological examination by signing a document that was handed to her by the officers. The girl still hasn’t returned home, she said.

“It’s only now we understood that we shouldn’t have signed anything,” she said. “But when you’re facing 10 armed men in masks and body armor, there’s no time for rational analysis.”

Prokudina’s mother Olga Pronina said that after officers took her daughter away, she called the FSB for information about her.

“They told me that for safety reasons she won’t be released until September 1,” the start of the new school year, she said.

Prokudina’s relatives deny that she was involved in any plans to attack a school.

An assistant to Miroshnikova told the state-run TASS news agency that several parents say their children are being examined against their will. The assistant was also quoted as saying that the children have been banned from receiving visits from relatives due ostensibly to safety precautions connected to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We know that law enforcement came to several families where the children were registered on that social-media group, but not all the parents gave permission for their transfer to the psychiatric hospital,” the assistant was quoted as saying.

Though firearms are significantly harder to access in Russia than in the United States, the country has seen a wave of knife incidents at schools and several involving guns or improvised explosives in the past three years.

In June, the FSB in Volgograd said it had detained a teenager suspected of plotting a school attack. In February, two teenagers in Saratov were arrested on suspicion of planning a gun-and-bomb attack in a local school. And in April, authorities in Krasnoyarsk arrested a 14-year-old boy they said was intent on attacking his school.

Earlier this month, a court in the Saratov region sentenced a teenager to 7 years in prison for assaulting students and teachers at his school with an ax and homemade firebombs. Before the attack, officials said, the teenager had written a message on social media professing admiration for the two teenagers who carried out the massacre at Columbine High.

Vladimir Vasin, a lawyer working with families of the teenagers committed to psychiatric treatment in the Krasnoyarsk region, acknowledged the need for law enforcement to help prevent future attacks, especially ahead of the new school year. But he was skeptical that Prokudina and others like her posed a threat.

“I can understand the authorities’ fight against terrorism. But they didn’t find anything during the raid” of her home, he told RFE/RL. “In my opinion, the child must be released."

RFE/RL correspondent Matthew Luxmoore reported from Moscow; correspondent Svetlana Khustik, of the Siberia Desk of RFE/RL’s Russia Service, reported from Krasnoyarsk
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    Matthew Luxmoore

    Matthew Luxmoore is a Moscow-based journalist covering Russia and the former Soviet Union. He has reported for The New York Times in Moscow and has written for The Guardian, Politico, The New Republic, and Foreign Policy. He’s a graduate of Harvard’s Davis Center and a recipient of New York University's Reporting Award and the Fulbright Alistair Cooke Journalism Award.

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