This is how Helen Hastings, 18, would have spent the past year: they would have been a sophomore at Oberlin College, a small liberal-arts school about an hour outside Cleveland, playing Dungeons and Dragons every Saturday in the dank basement of Burton Hall on North Quad, trying to sidetrack the game by reciting the entirety of the “Shrimp Heaven Now” dialogue from the podcast My Brother, My Brother, and Me. Helen, who used both the “she” and “them” pronouns, would have chased her Siberian therapy cat Willa down the halls of their dorm, picking up the tufts of fur she shed between her paws. They would have flounced around the snow-blanketed campus in shorts or a floral skirt, refusing to put on a coat even when their friends begged them to; and when the frigid Ohio winters started to thaw, they would have spent lazy Sunday afternoons in the swing chair on the lawn outside their dorm.
She would have completed the first year of what she hoped would be a triple-degree in art, psychology, and neurobiology; maybe she would have decided to focus on only one of those things, or two, or none at all. They would have gone to Anime Matsuri, the giant cosplay convention held in Houston every year, where maybe they would have dressed as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, the surly mutant telepath from the Deadpool franchise; Helen bore such a strong resemblance to the character that kids at cons would routinely stop in their tracks. She could have done an internship, in art or calligraphy or biochemistry. She had done bacterial microbiology work at the lab of her mother, who works in molecular biology, the prior spring, and was excited about the opportunity to possibly have her name put on a paper. They could have traveled around the country. They could have done anything.
Instead, Helen was killed; shot in the head in an apparent accident by her friend, a TikTok-famous cosplayer. Mary-Anne Oliver-Snow, a.k.a. Yandere Freak, a.k.a. Yandere Snow, a.k.a. Snow the Salt Queen, was a minor celebrity in the cosplay community, racking up 1.6 million TikTok followers for their performances of various Japanese anime characters. Snow, who goes by “they/them” pronouns, was particularly well-known for cosplaying characters from a series called Danganronpa, a Japanese video game in which teens are locked inside a school with a murderous bear and forced to fight to the death.
Snow, 23, was the leader of a tight-knit social circle including Hastings that was extremely popular on the Houston cosplay circuit. “They were like celebrities,” says Gem Piinker, a friend of Helen’s in the local community. “I hate to admit it, but the drama that follows Snow is what brought [that group] together. There was always something to talk about.” Snow was also notorious for stoking controversy among cosplayers in Houston, where they lived. “They were the Regina George of the community,” says Dolly Lace, a Houston cosplayer who knew Snow.
But nothing could have prepared those in Helen and Snow’s circle for the events of Jan. 17, 2021, when Snow accidentally shot Helen while they were watching the TV show Gotham at their home. (When reached for comment, L. Brent Mayr, Snow’s attorney, said his client was “incredibly remorseful about what took place” and would not be available to speak to Rolling Stone, saying they were still traumatized by the shock of losing their friend.) The circumstances surrounding Hastings’ tragic killing, as well as the aftermath, are still somewhat unclear. But they were summarily turned into tabloid fodder when the story broke in September, nearly nine months after Hastings was killed. And Snow’s trajectory in particular serves as a cautionary tale about the lengths influencers go to craft and maintain elaborate social media personae, and the complexities that may arise when the roles they play on social media become virtually inextricable with the events of real life.
Helen Rose Hastings was the only daughter of Philip Hastings and Susan Rosenberg, both acclaimed geneticists who worked at the Baylor College of Medicine. They were “old parents,” Susan says in a lengthy conversation from the Houston home where Helen grew up. Phil was 65 and had been married twice before, with four sons who were significantly older than Helen; Susan was in her early forties. As a small child, Helen had begged for a little sister, but Susan had developed preeclampsia during her pregnancy, and had almost died. And so, Helen, who was named after the Hellenic people in honor of her mom’s Greek roots, was “my first and only,” Susan says.
As a toddler, Helen was precocious and highly verbal, speaking in full sentences by the time she was just 18 months old. Their childhood was a whirlwind of extracurriculars: swimming, theater, chorus, rock-band camp, robotics. “She was a person who was everywhere at the same time, but also very centered and grounded. There was no correlation between the things she was interested in,” says her childhood friend Bailey, who requested her last name be withheld to protect her privacy. “She seemed like she wanted to know everything.” Helen spent her breaks traveling with her parents on the lecture circuit, going to far-flung places like Oslo, Croatia, and Tokyo; when she was seven years old, she told her mother that when she grew up, she wanted to start an institute for women scientists in Japan.
Helen was always friendly and extroverted, but around the time she entered middle school, she started to be intensely bullied. Part of that was because she was small — she grew to just under five foot one — but also because she struggled with misophonia, an intense aversion to specific sounds, including chewing, pencil-tapping, coughing, and sniffling. Unable to sit in classrooms or eat lunch with people in school, Helen was miserable, and her classmates “made life very hard for her, and it became unbearable over time,” says Susan. To make matters worse, in junior high, Helen entered a same-sex relationship with a classmate who later told others at the school about the relationship, effectively outing Helen. “It broke their trust down a lot,” says Bailey.
The stress of being bullied over being pansexual, as Helen would soon identify, led to them developing anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder, which they would struggle with for the rest of their life. Helen would also later be in an emotionally abusive relationship with someone they met online, a traumatic experience that they frequently referenced on social media. Isolated from classmates, Helen sought solace at cosplay conventions, attending their first in Houston when they were in eighth grade, with their friend Bailey. Both were entranced by the pageantry of the con: the brightly colored, elaborate, multi-hundred-dollar costumes; the ability to lose oneself entirely in a character. But it was Helen who truly became enamored with the insular world of the cosplay community. “Helen was drawn to the escapism of it. Some people view it as an escape from reality,” says Bailey. “They’re not a human, they’re this character. For three days they don’t have to think about what’s going on in the outside world. It’s just what’s happening in the convention halls.”
Helen was a talented cosplayer, amassing a minor following on Instagram and the TikTok precursor musical.ly for cosplays of characters like KarKat from Homestuck and Mystery Girl from Steven Universe. Their delicate, cherubic features allowed them to seamlessly transition between a wide range of characters, and they had an expressive face, making them an ideal fit for the lip=sync format of musical.ly. At first, Susan was skeptical about Helen’s interest, as many of the attendees were significantly older. She also didn’t quite understand the appeal. “I said to [Helen], ‘Maybe it’s like theater.’ And she said, ‘It’s not like theater. You do everything: You make your own costumes. You’re really in charge of your own characters and cartoons,’ ” Susan says. That, plus the sense of community it offered Helen, assuaged her fears. “I saw that it was a community of people who in some way or another didn’t fit in, and they had this group of people with whom they could,” she says.
Fans have been dressing up as their favorite characters and attending conventions in full garb for decades. But the actual term “cosplay” — a portmanteau of “costumes” and “play” — was coined by a Japanese journalist in the early 1980s. Compounded with the rise of anime, the practice has increased greatly in popularity worldwide and become more mainstream over the past few decades, with one estimate suggesting the global cosplay costumes market will reach $23 billion by 2030. Many cosplayers attend conventions dressed as their favorite anime characters, investing hundreds if not thousands of dollars in their costumes to achieve full verisimilitude. And with the advent of Instagram and most recently TikTok, there’s been an emerging cottage industry of cosplay influencers who have amassed huge followings on both platforms.
Although many of the most popular cosplayers globally are of Japanese descent, within the U.S. circuit there’s a great deal of discussion about who, exactly, attracts the most attention. “There’s this implicit racism in the cosplay community. You can only really make it big if you are young, white, or sometimes light-skinned East Asian with a very specific sort of body,” says a cosplayer we’ll call Sonya Nevermind, who has been active in the community for more than 20 years (Nevermind requested we refer to her with a pseudonym due to harassment she’s previously received within the community). “You also need the money to afford tons and tons of costumes to market yourself, because if you don’t have something new every month” — a new character, new costumes — “you’ll get penalized by the algorithm.” Isabella, a.k.a. @ssahee, a vlogger who covers the community, says there can be some intense gatekeeping within the community as a result. “There are some people who believe, ‘Oh, this character isn’t Black, you can’t cosplay as them,’ when all the characters are Asian and it’s white people cosplaying as them,” Isabella, who is of Asian descent, says.
Contrary to mainstream perceptions of the subculture, cosplaying does not indicate an innate identification with a character, nor does one’s favorite character necessarily reflect anything specific about the cosplayer’s personality. Indeed, within the community, cosplayers are extremely sensitive to the suggestion that anything they do collapses the line between fantasy and reality, a stereotype that they say is extremely harmful. “We’ve had years and years of people bad-faith arguing that whatever we are doing in our costumes is what we do in real life. There’s a lot of that sort of allegation coming from outside the community,” says Nevermind. “And God knows people are horrible to cosplayers, so we’re all hyper-aware of that.”
It was through the Houston cosplay circuit that Helen, then in about 10th grade, met Yandere Freak, a.k.a. Snow, who then went by the handle Snow the Salt Queen. With their delicate features that could metamorphose into any character, Snow was custom-made for cosplay stardom; over the years, they had amassed an enormous following on Instagram and musical.ly (later TikTok), racking up 1.6 million followers on the latter platform by 2021. “[They were] a big star online,” says Susan. “And Helen was in their orbit.”
Snow was particularly popular for cosplaying as Junko, one of the main characters in Danganronpa, who vacillates between sweetness and empathy and wishing to inflict despair and violence on the whole world. Junko is a prime example of the character archetype that inspired Snow’s username: the yandere, a trope popularized by Japanese dating sim games, explains Lauren Orsini, a journalist who covers anime and manga. She describes the yandere as someone who “sometimes is affectionate and sometimes wants to kill you”; an individual who is violently possessive of the object of their obsession. Junko is an extremely popular character for people to cosplay, but Helen’s friends say Snow took their affinity with the character to another level, and they were known for leaning into the yandere archetype to an arguably extreme degree. On their Instagram bio, Snow referred to themselves as the “IRL Junko Enoshima,” and they were known to be highly possessive of the character, criticizing anyone else who cosplayed as Junko.
Snow thrived on leaning into controversy. “They had this ‘it’ factor. They were very fabulous, very outgoing,” says Lace. “But they had a dark side. They were the type of person that you can’t trust.” Lace says that after Snow had an acrimonious breakup with a mutual friend of theirs, Lace barred Snow from attending a panel the friend was on, at the friend’s request; an incensed Snow, Lace says, retaliated by reporting the panel, which was 18-plus, to security, saying that they had seen a child in attendance (a friend in the community who was also on the panel confirmed this, and Snow also posted about the incident on their Tumblr). “There was something off about them,” says Lace. “I did not feel they were a safe or sane person to be around.”
In January 2019, Snow posted a video of themselves scantily clad and dressed as Junko, posing provocatively atop a gravestone. While such stunts are not unheard of in the YouTube influencer ecosystem, the post garnered Snow a great deal of backlash on social media, which they used to further fuel their brand as an edgy cosplayer, leading some to refer to them as “Graveyard Junko.” “Snow has always been someone who leverages controversies and call-outs into publicity,” says Sonya. “They will wait out the drama and use that notoriety to make themselves even more known and possible.”
Snow responded to the backlash by saying on a TikTok Live that they didn’t know it was disrespectful: “I didn’t know there were so many goddamn rules in a graveyard,” they said while applying makeup, adding, “I still don’t understand why it’s wrong, but I’m not gonna do it again.” They would later be accused of other questionable behavior, such as upcharging another member of the cosplay community for a low-quality Junko wig that they sold for $300. Snow was also well-known for taking their cosplay too far. They were known to pose with real blades instead of fake swords at conventions, where carrying weapons on the floor is prohibited. At one point, Lace says, they appeared at a convention cosplaying as Toga and draped in real hypodermic needles.
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People in the community report that Snow was constantly flanked by their friends, many of whom lived in the same house as them, also did cosplay, and regularly appeared in Snow’s posts. Those outside this circle report being highly unsettled by Snow and their friends’ behavior, with more than one person describing the social circle as “toxic.” What was particularly disturbing, say Helen’s friends, was Snow and their friends’ habit of lapsing in and out of their alternate identities, or “alters,” which were usually based on anime characters. And most of these identities were villains, such as Toga from the anime My Hero Academia. On their website, linked in their Instagram, Snow had a list of “alters” for their “system,” with a wide range of gender identities and ages, and would frequently post under various alters on their Instagram.
Morgan Gross, who dated Helen during their senior year at Fusion Academy, a local private school, says that when she used to hang out with Helen and their friends at Snow’s house, there was a “weird distinction” between people who claimed to be actually diagnosed with DID, or dissociative identity disorder, and people who merely “kinned” other characters, or strongly identified with them. Gross’s initiation to this dynamic was a pool party at Helen’s parents’ house, when she witnessed a member of Snow’s household acting “very strangely,” with a different, squeakier voice and a shier, more anxious personality. That’s when Morgan realized what was going on. “There was a lot of bouncing around between identities, and they enforced each other’s issues with identity,” she says. “In my opinion it was very unhealthy, but it was not the opinion of the people in that house. For them it was, ‘Hey, I’m 15 people and I’m never going to address why, or how it might affect those around me.’ ” On more than one occasion, Gross says, she saw these personalities become violent, with people in the house shoving each other or slapping each other while shifting into these alters.
Bailey also spent some time with Snow and their friends. She says they were almost constantly stoned or inebriated, and while she never witnessed any violent or unhinged behavior, she did see some red flags that disturbed her, particularly Snow’s strong identification with Junko. Junko’s own struggles with identity are central to her character: Junko falls in love with a neurologist who wipes her memory, convincing her she is a different person after she takes a life. “She is sort of the mastermind behind the whole killing game and the main antagonist for all the games,” says Bailey. “I didn’t feel comfortable being around someone who said, ‘I am her. She is me. We are the same.’ ”
It is unknown whether Snow or any of their friends actually had DID. When reached for comment, Mayr, Snow’s lawyer, says he “cannot confirm or deny any sort of psychological diagnosis”; when asked specifically whether Snow had DID, he says, “To be quite honest with you, that is the first I have heard of it.” But it is not unheard of for people in various online subcultures, not just the cosplay scene, to self-identify as having DID, or to shift into other alters. “I’ve seen an increasing number of TikTok accounts that I thought were cosplayers, but they say, ‘This is not a cosplay, this is my headmate,’ ” says Orsini. “So they are not dressed as a Homestuck troll, they have a second personality that is identical to that fictional troll.”
DID is a highly stigmatized and often misunderstood condition, and despite the stereotypes associated with it, those who have been diagnosed with DID are also far more likely to be victims of violent crime than to perpetrate it, says Dr. David Spiegel, a Willson Professor and an associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. “They’re more likely to be hurt than to hurt people,” he says. Spiegel says he has heard of people with DID gravitating toward each other, and in some cases living together, which he says can be a double-edged sword. “In principle, it’s a good idea. People can help one another,” he says. “But anything that has the power to help has the power to hurt. And it’s conceivable that people with the same aggregation of problems can lead to reinforcement of bad things.”
As Helen was drawn further into Snow’s orbit, they would increasingly explore other “kinnies,” or characters they identified with, often posting as them on their other Instagram accounts. Helen’s friends say Helen was extremely protective of Snow, who had stood by Helen during their abusive relationship; Helen “loved [Snow] platonically,” says Piinker, and would always defend Snow against the cyclone of controversies they courted.
But as Helen became more immersed in Snow’s social circle, her friends and family members started to notice her displaying increasingly troubling behavior. Snow and their roommates drank and smoked weed frequently, which Susan disapproved of; when they came by the Hastings household for Thanksgivings and to swim in the pool, they would swipe towels and avoid eye contact with Helen’s parents. “At some point I did get the feeling where they were trying to drive a wedge between her and us and her and her whole lifestyle,” says Susan. At one point, while they were still in high school, Helen said that they wanted to drop out and work at Goodwill, reportedly prompted by her friends. This infuriated Susan. “I think people who really cared about her wouldn’t have said that,” says Susan. “Helen could do so much. I don’t think people who love you and see that you have potential should tell you to drop out of school.”
Through it all, however, Helen steadfastly stood by Snow and their friends. Friends say that Helen was willing to acknowledge Snow was complicated, but they never heard Helen speak badly about them, because Helen was just not the type to speak badly about people. Besides, Helen’s loved ones reasoned, Snow seemed to care for Helen. “I think Helen was of the mindset, ‘Oh, Snow would never do anything to harm me,’ ” says Lace. ” ‘Snow would never hurt me.’ “
In the summer of 2020, two weeks before Helen left for her first semester of college, she moved out of her parents’ house and into the house where Snow and their friends lived, on the outskirts of Houston. It was a dilapidated house, and far out of the way from the metropolitan area; the house was also full of animals, and it frequently smelled strongly of cat urine and vomit. But Helen was restless, and according to their friends, there was rising tension between Helen and their family. Susan says that her relationship with Helen was not so much fraught at that point, but that Helen left because, with the Covid-19 pandemic still raging and Helen’s parents being high risk, “Helen had a choice between living with her two old-fart parents and never seeing her friends, and then going to see her friends all the time. She wanted to be independent, like all kinds of kids did.” And although she wasn’t thrilled Helen was moving out of the house, she reluctantly agreed.
In the fall of 2020, Susan and Helen drove up to Oberlin College, where she would spend her first and only semester as a college student. Susan was sanguine that Helen would at some point return home. “I thought she’d find that she could have a community of all different kinds of people [at Oberlin] who could accept her for who she was,” Susan says. “And once she could internalize that, I thought that particular group of friends” — meaning, Snow and Co. — “was not going to be around forever.” She believed that Helen’s association with Snow was just a phase. “Teenagers have to rebel against their parents. I thought she would come back,” she says. “[But] that trip we spent staying in hotels and trying not to get Covid — I feel like that was really our goodbye.”
At Oberlin, Helen did indeed appear to find her people. “From what I could tell, Helen felt like she finally had a place to be,” says Bailey. “Oberlin was her place … they were, in my opinion, really ready to fully become themselves.” What was really striking to Bailey was that Helen had stopped posting so much on her alt accounts. She was quick to make friends; according to Susan, one student who wrote to her after Helen died said that on election night, when they were both wired on anxiety, they both mentioned how touch-starved they were from all of the social distancing on campus, and just sat outside and held hands in silence.
Helen’s first semester on campus ended abruptly in November 2020, due to a Covid-19 resurgence and an edict from Gov. Mike DeWine shutting down schools. Helen went back to Snow’s house in Houston, continuing her classes virtually. She occasionally visited her parents’ house — bringing her friends over for an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner, and having brandy and eggnog with her mom on Christmas Eve. For Christmas, Helen got a photo printer; Willa the cat had her very own stocking.
Helen’s friend Elizabeth Hawk says that just a few days before Helen was set to return to campus in January, she received a message from Helen on Discord. The message simply said “Hey.” But by the time Hawk actually saw it, Helen was dead.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, Jan. 17, Helen, Snow, and five of their friends were drinking vodka, Dr. Pepper, and Coca-Cola at the home they shared in Houston. At some point in the evening, according to court documents and witness statements, while they were watching the TV show Gotham, Snow said they had a gun like Penguin did. Snow then unveiled a Glock handgun, which they said their ex-boyfriend had left behind after moving out.
According to court documents, Snow told police they and their friends played with the gun fairly often, believing it to be safe, as their ex-boyfriend said he had removed all the bullets in the magazine. While they usually put the gun back in its case after taking it out, they had been drinking heavily, and this time failed to do so. After a few hours of playing with the gun, one of Snow’s housemates approached them asking Snow to pretend to shoot them. Snow complied, believing the gun to be unloaded. It was at this point that Helen said, “Oh, do me.” (This is the only part of the official version of events that Susan disputes: “That is so not our Helen,” she says. “If she were still capable of speech, she would never have said that.”) Snow then placed the gun on the left side of her head.
The gun went off. Helen fell to the ground. Blood started seeping into the carpet, and Helen’s panicked friends ran to get something to stop the bleeding, settling on a large red-and-white teddy bear. Snow ran upstairs to get a towel while they waited for EMTs to arrive. (Rolling Stone attempted to reach out to the housemates named in the charging documents, but did not receive a response from most of them; one said they did not want to speak about the case until after it was adjudicated.)
When Helen got to the hospital, she was placed on life support. The hospital showed Susan and Philip MRIs of her brain activity. “That was it,” Susan says. “There was just not much there.” When Susan was told that Helen had been shot, and that Snow had pulled the trigger, she was stunned. Helen had not been raised with guns, and just a few weeks before, Philip had asked Helen if Snow and their friends had kept any weapons inside the house. Helen had said no, though the witness statements later revealed that this was not the first time the inhabitants of the house had played with the gun.
Unbeknownst to Susan, Helen had signed an organ donor card, and the hospital asked if it could keep Helen on life support for a few days so it could find a recipient for their organs. The hospital wanted the family to wait three days; Susan said they could wait for exactly two. That was as much as the family could bear. “I was never gonna see her again. I wanted to just hold her hand,” Susan says. Two days after Helen was shot, with her mother singing her Beatles songs and show tunes at her bedside, Helen was taken off life support and pronounced dead at 5:18 p.m.
For months, no one outside of Helen’s small circle in Houston knew exactly how they had died. Their college friends found out via a short email from the Oberlin College communications team. “It felt like they had a formula for a dead kid,” says Hawk. “Like they had run the numbers and this is how you talk about dead children. It was like, ‘We regret to inform you that first-year Helen Hastings has died. She was a bright member of the community. This is what she wanted to study. OK, bye.’ ” (In response to questions about whether the college could have better supported students grieving Helen, a representative for Oberlin College tells Rolling Stone: “In its communication with the campus community, the college provided resources for students to seek support through several offices, including professional psychologists and therapists on staff in the Counseling Center.”)
Because the email did not mention the cause of death, and because Helen’s friends could not get in touch with her parents because Susan was not checking emails, everyone had assumed Helen had taken their own life. In the absence of a memorial service set up by the college, about six or seven of Helen’s friends trudged almost a half hour through the snow to a cemetery on the outskirts of campus, attempting to light some candles. They were instantly blown out.
It’s unclear how, exactly, the gun fired in the first place. One of Snow’s housemates told police that they saw Snow taking the clip out before they started playing with it, with Snow saying they did so “so no one gets hurt,” but did not know how the clip ended up back in. In their conversations with police, Snow said they did not believe they put the magazine back in the gun, but they may have done so without thinking about it because they were “really, really drunk.”
Some of Helen’s friends believe this version of events, that it was a tragic accident, the culmination of too much liquor and hubris over having successfully handled prop guns in the past. “It’s the absolute textbook gun-safety PSA story,” says Lace. “Most cosplayers do not use real guns whatsoever, and yet we know all the rules to pose with a fake one and have it look convincing. It was an accident that could’ve been avoided with 10 different steps.”
Others are more skeptical. “I don’t even know how to identify Snow as a single person because they had so many identities,” says Morgan, who dated Helen their senior year in high school. “Like, did Junko kill Helen? Should Junko, in Snow’s body, be allowed to be free, like outside of prison or in a mental facility?” Lace believes the truth lies somewhere in between: that it was a horrific accident, but not an unpreventable one. “It was just a matter of time till someone got hurt,” Lace says of Snow. “It’s like the story of the scorpion and the frog. Snow is the scorpion. They’ve gotta hurt someone.”
In July, while Hawk was home from college, a friend sent her one of Snow’s Instagram posts. Hawk had heard of Snow once or twice in passing — mostly that she was a high school friend of Helen’s, active in the cosplay community. She was shocked to see on Snow’s Instagram account that someone had commented that Snow had shot Helen.
Hawk and her friends, still believing Helen had died by suicide, dismissed it as a rumor from someone trying to stoke controversy in the community. Snow had just kept posting on social media, mere days after Helen had died — there was no way they were actually involved, Hawk believed. On Jan. 21, Snow had posted on TikTok: “I will be taking a hiatus, I’m unsure how long but I will keep you updated.” But as soon as Feb. 10, they had started posting again: “Hiatus is over! Except more mikan tomorrow and please interact,” referring to a cosplay of another Danganropa character.
“I kinda assumed if you [kill] someone, you have at least the courtesy to not keep posting,” says Hawk. “Especially with the kind of content they were making.”
That kind of content, which would be obsessively scrutinized by TikTokers and vloggers after Snow’s court records surfaced in September, was essentially the same as Snow’s previous content: lip-sync videos that blurred the line between edgy and adorable, featuring Snow vamping around in combat boots, candy-colored wigs, and crop tops. There was some indication on their backup account that things were less upbeat than they appeared. “I should have known better. One way or another my luck always turns,” they wrote on Feb. 2 in a now-deleted post, less than two weeks after Helen was shot, attributing the caption to another character from Danganronpa. “I shouldn’t allow anyone else in the crossfire.”
But on their main account, it was business as usual for Snow. An Instagram post dated April 27, just three months after Helen died, featured Snow cosplaying as Ayano Aishi, the protagonist of the game Yandere Simulator, wielding a baseball bat and staring threateningly into the camera, bloody handprints on her cheek and on the white backdrop behind her. “Updated Ayano cosplay! What do you think?” the cheery caption read. They also maintain an OnlyFans page where they charge $40 a month for premium content. In one video that was frequently highlighted by other TikTok users, they used a popular audio that nonetheless feels inadvisable for someone facing manslaughter charges to post: “My insides are red, and yours are too/And the red on my face is matching you,” they sing, their hands twisting in ecstasy, a deranged grin on their face. “Goodness, you’re bleeding, what a wonderful feeling/You’re down and you’re pleading/My head is just reeling.” There are bloody handprints behind them, as if someone had unsuccessfully tried to claw the walls to escape their clutches.
Snow’s attorney denies that such content should be viewed as Snow boasting about their role in Hastings’ death, suggesting that there might be other motivations. “Whether this was their attempt to deal with the trauma on their own, I can’t say for certain,” he says. “But what we know for sure is they did not receive any psychological help or counseling for this incident.”
Snow also continued to collaborate with others in the community and attend cosplay-related events, including Anime Matsuri, the large Houston convention, in July, according to social media posts other users shared from the event. (Anime Matsuri did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.) Lace alleges that the first night they were there, Snow got so inebriated that a policeman had to help them into an Uber; it wasn’t until months later that Lace learned that by Snow being drunk, she was violating the conditions of her bail. (Snow also was required by the court to wear an ankle monitor, which is visible in some of the videos on her backup TikTok account.)
In many respects, the content Snow made after Helen died isn’t exactly surprising. It’s like most of their previous videos: a half-hearted pantomime of psychosis that’s trying to teeter on the brink of edgy and adorable, complete with wide-eyed, frenetic facial expressions. But the knowledge that Snow had shot such content after taking their friend’s life, in the very same home where Helen died, repulsed many in the community.
“The fact that they were cosplaying this archetype, and after the manslaughter incident were trying to market themselves more using it, that’s what got so much backlash from the community,” says Nevermind. “It’s one thing to be edgy, it’s another thing to be edgy about someone losing their life.” There is no evidence that Snow ever explicitly referred to Helen’s death in their content, or overtly used it as a marketing tool. But the fact that they continued to lean into the yandere archetype after they allegedly committed manslaughter, says Nevermind, “is not only a tragedy, it reflects badly on all of us.”
Snow has not yet formally entered a plea, and their next hearing is on Oct. 21; none of the other housemates who witnessed Hastings’ death have been charged. According to Mayr, Snow has struggled greatly trying to process the aftermath of the shooting, and they have not received any psychological counseling whatsoever in the past few months. Their family members did not even know anything about Hastings’ death or Snow’s involvement until last month, when the story broke in the media.
“The trauma led Snow to basically just shut down internally and not discuss this with anyone, except the people they lived with,” says Mayr. “They didn’t know how to deal with it.” He reiterates that Hastings’ death was a horrible accident: “Never at any point did my client think that this was a possibility of something that could happen. No idea whatsoever the gun was loaded. And they’ve been devastated their close friend has lost their life under these circumstances.”
For the most part, Susan believes this, and views whatever happened the night of Jan. 17 must have been a horrible accident. But she also harbors some doubts. “There was some time when these folks were at this house before the police got there. So whatever was gonna happen, they were gonna have their story together,” she says. To some degree, she holds Snow and their friends and their predilection for smudging the edges of reality culpable for what happened to Helen: “There’s plenty of people she could’ve gotten drunk and stoned with where it would have never gotten to the point of playing with a gun and putting it to somebody’s head.” But on the other hand, she says, “it just doesn’t matter. Two lives were ruined. Helen’s was taken. And Snow — their life was ruined too.”
If Snow is indeed a danger to the community, Susan says, “they should be going somewhere where they can’t hurt other people.” But she does not want to see Snow go to prison, nor does she harbor any ill will toward them. At this point, Susan is just trying to put the pieces of her life together, trying to make sense of how they’ll fit without Helen. “At first, when you lose your only child, your big concern is, ‘How am I going to get through this?’ Putting day to day to day together in a way you can see yourself having a life,” she says. “And hoping there will be something positive, parts of it at least; and then there’s stuff that is unproductive, like being pissed off at a community. It’s not a good investment of my energy.”
To commemorate their life, Helen’s friends campaigned to have Oberlin plant a dogwood tree on the lawn of Burton, where Helen spent their first and only semester at college. It’s pink, the same color Helen had dyed their hair that semester. If they had lived to see the leaves change this year, they might have watched them slip off the tree, spending a lazy Sunday afternoon in their favorite swing chair.
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