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“How can you be afraid of children?” Daniil Turovsky’s report from Strugi Krasnye, where teenagers shot at police

Meduza
13:49, 16 november 2016

Photo: Daniil Turovsky / Meduza

On November 14, two teenage runaways from the village of Strugi Krasnye in the Pskov Region locked themselves in a private residence and started firing from it. At first, they shot into the air, then at a police car. They recorded these events on video. The house was locked and police launched an assault. After this, the police announced that the teenagers had committed suicide. Meduza’s special correspondent Daniil Turovsky went to the village to find out exactly what happened.

The house in which the events transpired has been nicknamed ‘The Object’.

One of the first people to hear this word was Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a neighbor.

On Monday, November 14, 2016, she woke up at around 8 o’clock in the morning. She could hear gunshots while still lying in bed. Not knowing where they came from, she went out onto the street to clear the snow lying on the ground in front of her house.

Around 9 o’clock, a policeman passing by her house advised her: “Go home, lock your door, do not go near your windows, and do not look in the direction of ‘The Object’.”

Lyudmila disappeared into the house, but peeked out occasionally through the window. She noted that after 9 o'clock in the morning, police began to gather on the street. Their numbers increased as each hour passed. She soon learned from them that a man was allegedly holding a woman hostage in the house next door and firing at police and dogs on the street. After 11 o’clock, shots were heard more often. By 1 o’clock, a police officer made a path through the snow near Lyudmila’s barn. ‘The Object’ was easily visible from the barn, being just 15-20 paces away; one only had to walk across the garden. According to Lyudmila, police privately began discussing the possibility of launching a siege from the side of her barn.

Lyudmila knew that there was usually nobody in the neighboring house in winter. The family that had bought it about five years earlier used it as a summer residence. They often did not leave the property, the owner of the house – Katerina's stepfather – was “as evil as a bear,” Lyudmila recalled. The house itself looked better than most of the houses in the village: it was two storeys high, had a bath beside it, a well, specially planted pine trees, and a solid fence around it. In Strugi Krasnye, a lot of edifices are empty: the local bakery and sewing factory are closed; many residents have moved away to Pskov in search of work. There was no one in the houses near ‘The Object’ other than Lyudmila, so the police did not have to evacuate anyone.

The house where the teenagers had barricaded themselves; bullet holes in the fence.
Photo: Daniil Turovsky / Meduza

The Escape

Fifteen-year-old Denis Muravyev and Katerina Vlasova had been dating for about seven months. They studied together in adjacent classrooms in ninth grade at school in Pskov. They have a lot of joint photographs on social networks. In a comment to one of the photographs posted on November 9, 2016, Denis wrote: “It is sad that everything happened like this; things were good only with you.” On ask.fm, responding to questions about relationships, the teenagers said several times that he had a ‘baby’. Katerina’s social media account had many selfies and videos of the actor Dylan O’Brien from the television series Teen Wolf. She was part of hundreds of online communities for teens.

They both grew up in families with stepfathers and had problems with their studies. As the Pskov Region’s Children’s Rights Commissioner Natalia Sokolova said, they showed “demonstrative behavior.”

Both had an awkward relationship with their parents. Shortly before the fled, Katerina had been punished for having come home too late, at around 9 o’clock in the evening. She tried to get permission to sleep over at her friend’s house, but when she was forbidden from doing so, she ran away. She was found with her friend, brought back home, and beaten. She had a bruise on her head. This she announced on November 14 over Periscope. At the same time, Denis said that he had had enough of his parents.

When they were later asked by fellow chat members if they felt sorry for the parents, they answered: “Why did they not feel sorry for us? They have never felt sorry for us.”

On Friday, November 12, Katerina and Denis withdrew money from their parents’ bank cards and boarded a minibus. They travelled 80 kilometers to the town of Strugi Krasnye, where Katerina’s stepfather kept a summer residence. They did not have keys with them, so they opened one of the windows near the front door with a knife. The glass shattered and the teenagers climbed inside the house. Once inside the house, they opened one of the safes, where they found a double-barreled hunting rifle, a gun, another arm, and ammunition.

The teenagers spent the weekend in the house that would later be called ‘The Object’. There, they seemingly dyed their hair: Denis from dark to light and Katerina – the opposite. They wore homey clothing: Denis walked around in camouflaged trousers and a sports jacket that was several sizes too big; Katerina wore black athletic clothing.

On Monday morning, as can be surmised from the Periscope broadcast, Katerina’s grandmother and mother had found them. She greeted them with a knife in her hand. “It somehow happened that they ended up slicing my hand. Denis calmly told them to leave, but they did not react,” she would say in a broadcast later on. Denis became enraged and and shot from a pneumatic gun at Katherine’s mother; he hit her in the leg.

After that, a police car came the house. The teenagers shot at it with a shotgun. The policemen ran out of the car and fled.

The trees and bushes behind which police officers shielded themselves from the bullets.
Photo: Daniil Turovsky / Meduza

The Seige

Over the course of the next few hours, the teenagers wandered from room to room, actively updating their social networks. They broadcast an event in Periscope (the recording has since been deleted, but is available on YouTube; Meduza has made a transcript of two of the broadcasts.) Katerina updated her status on social network VKontakte, saying that it would be “beautiful to leave”, later adding that she was not being held hostage and was there of her own free will.

Denis put up a photograph on Instagram of guns, radios, and condoms. Later he put up a picture of the police car dented by bullets with a caption reading: “on vacation with my love”. He also put up a selfie with Katerina with the words “Darova ‘Cherny delfin’” (the name of a prison for those sentenced to serve for life). In one of the broadcasts, the teenagers spent a few minutes discussing how many years in prison they would get when they were arrested.

Teenagers did not voice any demands; instead, they mainly talked about the hopelessness of their situation. The students periodically went into the lodge and shot at the house next door, the fence, and the police car. Katerina suggested that Denis shoot at a dog running around in the yard across the street. Prior to this, Denis had confessed to killing two dogs.

At some point, the young people gave Periscope viewers a tour of the house. “This is my stepfather’s dacha; he is a member of the special forces, a hunter in Russia’s federal security service,” said Katerina. Denis showed a photograph in which Katerina’s stepfather was shaking hands with Vladimir Putin. Sitting on the couch under the flag of the Airborne Forces, they ate from the bowl of instant noodles. Denis suggested that they run. “It’s useless,” Katerina said.

Denis noticed that they did not have as many spectators as they would have hoped. Katerina pointed to the plastic spread out on the floor. “It’s been lain down for blood, for the corpses,” she said. “Soon we will be attacked and we will have to shoot back. It will be fun! Let’s make a Molotov cocktail?” Denis shot at the television which began emitting smoke. The teenager then threw it out the window.

Katerina began to sing a cheerful song and showed the audience the dented police car. “In short, the tire is punctured, the window pierced … even two windows pierced!” she said, laughing. “So, baby, we’re not giving up?” Later in the broadcast, a shot was heard. Katerina ran out into the lodge to join her boyfriend. “Let’s aim at the cop car again?”, she suggested and took the gun. “God, how can you be afraid of children?” she said and fired at the police car.

Katerina touched Denis’s hair; he was squatting on his haunches. “I haven’t styled your hair [yet]. It is so beautiful to die,” she said.

Over the course of these hours, Denis and Katerina were contacted several times by their relatives. In one of the broadcasts, Katerina read a text message from Denis’s mother requested that they stopped firing. “This will come at a price,” the text message read. In another broadcast, Katerina said that Denis’s mother had called and requested that they came out of the building. “We do not want to leave, because that would be [no fun],” the teenager said.

On Periscope, they communicated with one of their friends over chat. Several times, he asked them what they were going to do next and said that he would “miss” them. Another classmate wrote that their entire class was watching. Katerina was amused.

The teenagers showed bottle of alcohol several times, explaining that the house was cold and that their was no wood for the fireplace and that they no longer had matches.

When the audience asked them whom they had killed, Katherine said: “Other than dogs, nobody yet.” Denis admitted that he may shoot at police with a gun. “I see the cops and just [shoot them]; bang bang,” he said, describing the sound of the shots. “Bonnie and Clyde,” Katerina joked.

A resident of the village told Medusa that by 1 o’clock, police had blocked the street. Witnesses say that the shots ceased at around the same time.

At around 2 o’clock, a post appeared on the village’s online community on VKontakte. The post read: “some lunatic is shooting; it seems that our village is carousing. Police are on the spot.”

During their broadcasts, the teenagers said several times that they had no other option to surrender. “If we do not give up, they will kill us,” said Denis. He said that they had handed over all of the weapons, having thrown their guns, knives, and ammunition out the window. “We cannot commit suicide,” said Katerina.

Apparently psychologists tried to communicate with them at the same time, said a source from the regional administration. Meduza was told of these attempts at negotiation by witnesses. Apparently, at the same time with Katerina was being spoken to on the telephone by her homeroom teacher.

According to a resident of the village, about 2 o’clock a special squad appeared in full uniform from the Pskov’s branch of Russia’s National Guard Rosgvardia. They did not approach the house, remaining instead a few meters away from it. The witness claims that, immediately after its arrival, the SWAT team began to discuss the possibility of launching an assault. Pskov’s regional officials are certain that the Rosgvardiya launched the assault prematurely instead of continuing negotiations. There were no residents in neighboring houses and the teenagers did not pose a threat to others.

During the negotiations, police gave the teenagers forty minutes “to think things over” and come out of the building. “We are being forced to surrender, but we are accustomed to the fact that Russians do not surrender,” Katerina said.

The village of Strugi Krasnye. According to census data from early 2016, the village has a population of around 3,000 people.
Photo: Daniil Turovsky / Meduza

The Storm

Shortly before the assault, Katerina and Denis stopped smiling and laughing (their broadcast continued all this time). She lit a cigarette – one of the remaining two of the total three packs they had with them. “I am afraid, afraid,” she said. Denis fixed her hair, neatly tucking it behind her ear. “For what?” he asked. “For you,” she replied. “It was painful to see you sad. I realized that I am a guy, [but] I could not ensure [your safety or your peace of mind],” he said. “I want to say our last works,” Katerina said. “We’ve committed too many [bad] deeds.”

They said that the house was surrounded by commandos. Their last broadcast was cut short with the words “the cops are standing and doing nothing.”

The residents of the village watched the police at work. Meduza was told that the SWAT officers carried out the assault through the back of the house. It was launched by eight people in full battle regalia. The police pointed out that the assault began after “hours of negotiations came to nothing and the children had stopped responding.”

Witnesses heard shots during the assault. One of them, who was standing near the cordon, said he heard several popping sounds. Police said that they used stun grenades during the assault. The SWAT officers who came into the house found the teenagers dead from gunshot wounds, reported the Investigative Committee. Denis had first shot Katerina and then himself. The investigative committee stressed that the police had not opened fire on the teenagers.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 15, the Investigative Committee issued a recording of the assault. The video shows spots and pools of blood on the couch where the teenagers sat recording their broadcast; their outer clothing and weapons were scattered on the floor. Katerina and Denis were taken by ambulance to the morgue; investigators appointed forensic and post-mortem psychological and psychiatric examinations.

The next morning, villagers approached the house to examine the bullet holes in the fence. “Has the madhouse reached our village too?” asked one man. “Have you heard? Yesterday a husband chocked his wife today and abandoned their six children,” responded another.

Shattered glass from the police car lie in the snow near the gate to the house. Beside them is a trail of blood in droplets, stretching fifty meters to the place where the police were hiding.

Pskov Prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation on illegal arms in the house. The office has called the SWAT team’s assault legal. At a meeting on Tuesday, Pskov’s regional children’s right commissioner Natalia Sokolova said: “we cannot allow for such events to be glorified” by schoolchildren.

Catherine and Denis’s classmates refused to speak with Meduza. Since Tuesday evening, they have been remembering their friends on their respective pages on VKontakte. One classmate wrote: “You were always honest and kind to me and supported me in difficult moments. You know how to cheer [people] up and were always courageous.” “I do not miss you ... I do not know why you have done this … We experienced so much together, so many cheerful and sad moments,” wrote another. The VKontakte administration disabled comments on the pages of Denis and Katerina, but allowed users to continue to sending the teenagers virtual gifts. One of these gifts took the form of a baseball cap with the inscription “Make America Great Again”.

Daniil Turovsky

Pskov