Three notes: Source says Romando purchased gun, left letters
In the wake of the alleged August 28 murder-suicide that took the lives of four members of an Albemarle County family, a source claims police told him that the late 19-year-old suspect, Noah Philip Romando, appears to have been thinking about taking his own life for at least two weeks prior to the slayings, and that he had obtained a handgun just days before.
"After my website was named in news stories, I contacted police," says Zach Schroeder, the 36-year-old creator of the Satanic International Network, the social networking site for so-called satanists that 2011 Albemarle High grad Noah Romando allegedly frequented.
According to Schroeder, an Albemarle County Police Detective called him back on Tuesday, September 4, and told him that Romando left behind a pair of suicide notes addressed to his family. The apparently undelivered notes, dated about two weeks before the incident, were found only after Romando took his own life and those of his mother, Beth Walton, and his two younger siblings, 16-year-old Lily Romando and 14-year-old Andrew Romando.
A third note, Schroeder says he was told, was dated the day of the massacre and was more ominously addressed only to his father, Peter Romando, who did not live at the house and who was physically unharmed. Schroeder says the detective, Bill Underwood, did not reveal the content of the notes.
UVA affiliated forensic psychiatrist Andy Thomson says the existence of suicide notes is always significant to an investigation, as the documents suggest premeditation and can often help determine motive.
Schroeder claims that the detective also revealed that Romando purchased a handgun three days before the slayings. According to an affidavit, in addition to a 10/22 hunting rifle removed from the home, a handgun of unidentified caliber was found in proximity of the deceased male, presumed to be Noah Romando.
Albemarle Police spokesperson Carter Johnson declined to comment on Schroeder's claims, citing the ongoing investigation, and Peter Romando has not responded to a reporter's request for comment.
The owner of a local gun store, however, says if Noah Romando purchased a handgun from a licensed dealer, he did so illegally.
"You have to be 21, and you need a government-issued ID, and a second back-up– something that shows the same address," says Bobby Leval, owner of Carterfield's Sporting Supplies store on Monticello Road.
If state rules on gun sales are clear for licensed dealers, who must check IDs and run a criminal background check on any would-be purchaser, Leval says an easy– and legal– way exists to buy a handgun. All that's required is a willing seller and a buyer who's at least 18 and not a felon.
"The law says that you cannot knowingly transfer a gun to a prohibited person," says Mike Campbell, spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the federal agency that regulates guns.
Campbell confirms that sellers in such private transactions are not required to know anything about the purchaser's mental state or to research a would-be buyer's criminal background. Furthermore, there's no central gun registry that would allow a gun to be tracked once it leaves the original purchaser's hands.
If a gun is used in a crime, store owner Leval says, the ATF can track it through the manufacturer's serial number– but only to the point of sale from a licensed dealer. Once it is sold privately, it essentially disappears. The estimated 270 million guns in private possession in the U.S., according to global gun tracking nonprofit gunpolicy.org, ranks this country at number one in the world in gun possession, with a rate of more than 88 guns per 100 people.
In addition to offering information about the notes and the alleged gun purchase, Schroeder also provides details about the teen's involvement on the Satanic International Network site, which Romando first joined, according to Schroeder, in September 2011.
A San Diego-based sushi chef, Schroeder says he started the social networking site as a hobby in 2009 and says that despite over 4,000 registered users, it doesn't generate revenue. He suggests that Romando signed up after watching Schroeder's YouTube channel, which features the Californian discoursing on various topics including homosexuality (he has no problem with it) and drugs and prostitution (he believes both should be legalized).
In one video, Schroeder offers his opinion on the best way to die– a bullet to the back of the head– and his frustration with the world's booming population.
"You know who needs to die? People..." Schroeder tells the camera in another video. "If I could just push a button and eliminate 50 percent of the people, I would."
Schroeder says he and Romando shared the same video chatrooms with other participants for "more than dozens of hours" over the nine months or so that Romando remained active.
"He never showed any signs of mental distress, never talked about depression or anything out of the normal," says Schroeder. "We'd just sit around, drink some beers, just bullsh*t. It wasn't anything that would strike you as abnormal."
As for Romando's "Noah8" profile, at which he describes his gender as "beast," Schroeder explains that new members are offered a humorous multiple-choice list to the gender questions as humorous alternatives to the standard "male" and "female." By choosing "beast" instead of other options (which include "poop flinging chimp" and "alien" in addition to several derogatory terms for women), Romando could be seen to have chosen one of the least offensive alternatives.
Schroeder also says he doubts Romando took Satanism seriously.
"I don't really think he had an interest," says Schroeder, offering words that seem to support Romando's friends' claims, that the former Charlottesville Catholic School student and Church of the Incarnation congregant must have participated in a satanic website primarily as a curiosity.
"I think he watched a couple of my videos and wanted to come and chill and hang out," says Schroeder, expressing frustration that Satanism is easily misunderstood.
"It's atheistic," says Schroeder, who contends that Satanists don't actually believe in the devil– or in gods.
"We believe in indulgence, self-preservation, and individuality," says Schroeder, noting that Satanism "doesn't promote violence or hatred."
That's a position echoed by the high priestess of the Church of Satan, which continues to promote the teachings of the late founder, Anton Szander LaVey
"We don't condone unwarranted violence," says Magistra Peggy Nadramia, pointing a reporter to an essay on satanic honor and integrity posted on the organization's website.
Schroeder says he contacted police in a civic-minded offer to assist in the investigation, acknowledging that while "satanists aren't the nicest people," he was surprised and upset by Romando's alleged actions.
"I have no clue why Noah did what he did," says Schroeder. "I saw no signs leading up to it."