The Boston Phoenix
August 10 - 17, 2000

[Features], continued

by Chris Wright

Shortly after the murder, Tim and Helen Remsberg paid Liam's family a visit.

"We hadn't heard from them," Tim says, "and this was just eating at my wife, big-time." So, one Friday afternoon, they went over to the Youens house and knocked on the door. Liam's brother answered., Liam Youens's Web site, was posted for two and a half years, providing a detailed -- and apparently unread -- record of a growing obsession. The domain name is now inactive (and technically still owned by Youens); to read the contents of the original site, you need to visit, which is maintained by Amy's parents.
"I wish I could have killed her in High school. I need to kill her so I can transport myself back into high school. I need to stop her from having a life. If I had a life myself, I really wouldn't care even if I was in love with her."

"As I passed her from Physics class I saw a rose, `No, God No!' but it was true. At lunch time I saw her with that guy."

"Oh great, now I'm really depressed, hmmm . . . looks like it's suicide for me. Car accident? Wrists? A few days later I think, `hey, why don't I kill her too?' That was the basic plan for the next half decade, I work fast don't I?"

"When I saw that car and looked at that house and realized Amy was asleep in there, Endorphines flew, it was like crack cocaine, I have never felt that kind of rush in my life, before or since."

"Well I got accepted to and attended RIT college, but I was always thinking of the plan to kill Amy. When I would come home from college during break I would mildly stalk Amy."

"For some reason I chose this point to fuck with school. I tried to buy a bus ticket go back home, but found myself sobbing uncontrolably, because I didn't want to leave the people I knew."

"I got in the car and said I will either have the means to kill Amy or Die tonight, by commiting suicide with the gun before the police grabbed me. But silly me forgot to bring the shells to load the gun."

"One time when I got pulled over the cop said that there are people that care about me. That was very sweet and nice and I am receptive to it, But that still doesn't change anything. **notice how my mood has changed here from my perivous rant, that's me Mr. Moody."

"So you believe I'm just a copycat? Damn right. One of my favorite things in life is watching CNN and have those words come on, `CNN BREAKING NEWS' those heliocopter shots of people running, the SWAT team converging on the scene guns drawn. Admit-it you love it too, you think its horrible but you still watch it don't you?"

-- Chris Wright

"My wife says, `Hi, is your mother home?' " Tim remembers. "He says, `No, she's not,' and just closes the door. So Helen puts her foot in the door, puts her shoulder on it, and he starts pushing. And I just said, `I don't think you're squishing my wife in the door, pal.' So I opened the door, he goes back and he's just standing there.

"I said, `Do you know who we are?' He says, `No.' So I say, `We're Amy Boyer's parents.' Then he started back and I said, `Son, we're not here to hurt you. Believe me, you have nothing to fear from us.' "

You can't blame Liam's brother for being afraid. At the best of times, Tim Remsberg cuts an imposing figure, and these days you can practically smell the anger on him. But he didn't want trouble, he says, just answers. "We want to know where this kid came from. What kind of existence did he have? Maybe we can get a sliver of that, and we can go home and make some peace with it. I don't know. We're looking for a way through this. We don't know.

"To be honest, our basis for going over there was to find out, are you mourning the death of your son, of your brother? Or are you rejoicing in the fact that this crazy son of a bitch is gone from your lives? I'm sure you're sorry that he took Amy, who was a totally innocent bystander. But are you sitting there going, `Phew! I knew it was going to happen, I just hoped it wasn't going to be my ass!' I mean, I really wanted to know."

In a calmer moment, Remsberg says he doesn't hold the Youenses responsible for Amy's death. "I don't want to believe that anyone in this family knew," he says. "And I don't want to take away from the fact that they may be mourning his death."

III. The irrational rationale

Amy was by no means the first person to be stalked on the Internet. A recent report from the US Attorney General's Office noted that "there may be potentially tens or even hundreds of thousands of victims of recent cyberstalking incidents in the United States." None, though, touched the kind of nerve, or sparked the kind of controversy, that the Amy Boyer case has.

Since their daughter's murder, Tim and Helen Remsberg have searched for the answers to a series of questions. Could this have been avoided? Would this murder have happened without the Internet? What keeps them up at night is that they'll never know. These are questions without answers.

Nashua is relatively small, and Liam could have found Amy's workplace address through other means than an online detective agency in Florida. At the same time, he was pathologically averse to face-to-face interaction, and if hadn't led Liam to Amy's workplace, perhaps the timid, vacillating killer would have simply taken his own life.

For the cops, this is less an Internet murder than another Glock murder. "It comes back to the gun issue," says Paison. "The easy accessibility to weapons. This man had two AR-15s, which have no other purpose than to kill a human being." In other words, to paraphrase the NRA, modems don't kill people, guns kill people.

Still, it's easy to understand Remsberg's anger at Tripod and Geocities, which posted the killer's manifesto. As Jayne Hitchcock, president of the cyberstalking advocacy group Woman Halting Online Abuse, says: "It seemed like [Liam] needed to build his ego up, to build up his courage. The Web site showed he had power." The longer the site was up, she says, the more Liam's sense of power grew. "He became more and more confident until -- boom!"

But in another sense, the Internet provided a unique opportunity to head off this horrific event -- not just because Liam posted a Web site, but because he put so much detail on it about his thoughts and feelings. is a perfect anatomy of the gun-toting loner.

Clinical psychologist William Pollack, author of Real Boys, says that clear signs point to the potential for explosive violence in young men: obsessive behavior, irritability, poor judgment, death threats, withdrawal. His words read like a psychological profile of Liam Youens. Says Pollack: "How much more of a message do you need?"

And Liam did us the favor of distributing the message himself. Look what I'm planning, he was saying. What are you going to do about it? Sadly, no one read it -- or anyone who did just kept clicking. But if any case can tell us how to prevent something like this from happening in the future, the Amy Boyer murder might be it.

Yet maybe it's a mistake even to try to make any sense out of all this. Perhaps there really are no answers. In the end, the murder of Amy Boyer was a matter of biology rather than technology. It was simply a feral, animal act of rage.

"This is an irrational case," says Paison. "When people say `Why? Why?' I tell them you're trying to rationalize an irrational mind. Unfortunately, a case like this, you don't develop a lot of closure."

Tim Remsberg sometimes discusses his daughter's murder in terms of the lottery, and this seems appropriate. The incident was so unlikely, so random, so contingent. So ridiculous. Amy and her family were just extraordinarily, excruciatingly unlucky.

Following the interview, as I drive through Nashua's spruced-up neighborhoods, I pass a florist and, on impulse, pull in to buy a bunch of flowers. I drive back and hand them to Helen. "Oh," she says, "I love flowers," and there are tears in her eyes. I am so sorry for her that I can hardly breathe.

But then Liam's mother, too, deserves sympathy. The Remsbergs have memories of a bright, exuberant young woman. They have their Garden of Love. The only memorial to Liam is his grim Web site.

And maybe you can even feel sorry for Liam. When you learn the contents of the suicide's pockets -- six dollars and change, a piece of chewing gum -- you can almost pity him. But then you remember Amy, who looked up on that glorious October afternoon and saw the barrel of a gun, who died a few months shy of her 21st birthday.

Amy Boyer had her funeral Mass on a Tuesday, at the Church of the Good Shepherd in downtown Nashua. There were crowds of mourners, hordes of media, a police detail. It seemed the whole town had turned out to honor her.

Liam's funeral was held the following afternoon. On that day, Nashua felt more like a ghost town. The Youens family, says Tim Remsberg, "were the only ones there."

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Chris Wright can be reached at cwright[a]