Riversend Church Massacre: Was Father Byron Swift a Real Mass Shooter?

Father Byron Swift is a mass shooter who kills five of his parishioners in Sundance Now/AMC+’s thriller series ‘Scrublands.’ The murders are committed after Swift gets accused of being a pedophile who has sexually abused a child. The townsfolk link the murders with the allegation, believing that Byron went “apeshit” when he was accused of being a predator. Byron’s actions can be paralleled with several crimes committed in real life. Numerous murderers have worn cassocks while being murderers. Similarly and unfortunately, mass shootings and shooters have become a condemnable part of contemporary times. But is the priest behind the Riversend church massacre based on such a killer?

The Intention Behind Father Byron Swift

Father Byron Swift is a fictional character without an exact real-life counterpart. Australian novelist and journalist Chris Hammer created the character for his book ‘Scrublands,’ the series’ source material. Hammer wrote the novel to explore the “sense of isolation” and the “feeling of being trapped.” After sharing a major period of his life with communities who live on the banks of the dying Murray River and Darling River, two of the longest rivers in Australia, the writer chose these themes as the foundation of his novel. Rather than real-life homicidal priests and mass shooters, these two elements gave birth to Byron.

In fiction and reality, communities get shaken when murders happen, especially in the cases of multiple killings. Unlike standalone murders, mass shootings threaten a society as a whole rather than an individual. When the murders are committed by a priest, who is expected to be the guardian of a community’s harmony and compassion, the members of the same are likely to feel isolated from not only God but also the sense of togetherness a man of clergy propagates. Therefore, Hammer must have created the murderer in his novel as a priest and mass shooter because these characteristics serve a purpose as far as the literary work’s narrative is concerned.

“In my book, [Riversend] reinforces the sense of isolation and desperation, that the inhabitants are on their own, stranded out on the plain,” Hammer told Better Reading, clarifying how the murders committed in the town enhance the novel’s themes.

Father Byron Swift and Real-Life Parallels

Even though Father Byron Swift is fictional, what makes him a chilling figure is the resemblance he has with real-life murderers. Out of the tens of killer priests, he resembles the most with Father Ryan Erickson, a Roman Catholic priest based in Hudson, Wisconsin. In 2005, St. Croix County Judge Eric Lundell concluded that Erickson, who had killed himself by then, probably murdered a funeral home director named Dan O’Connell and his mortuary science intern James Ellison. The case’s prosecutor stated that he believed Erickson killed them because O’Connell might have had information concerning the sexual abuse allegations against the priest, similar to how Byron commits the murders following the pedophile accusation against him.

“I think Ryan Erickson, his life was to be a priest. And I think what happened is, he could see that crumbling, and if Dan would have went public with that, or if it had been revealed, his life would have been ruined, and I think he had to stop that,” then-DA Eric Johnson said back in 2005. Deacon Russell Lundgren of St. Mary’s Church in Hurley testified that Erickson confessed to him about committing the sexual abuse. “He [Erickson] tells me that, ‘I done it and they were going to catch me,’” Lundgren testified. The circumstances surrounding the murders are the same since both priests were alleged to be sexual abusers.

When it comes to mass shooters, several murderers had a history of sexual abuse. According to the Journal of Injury Epidemiology, more than 2/3 (68.2%) of 110 mass shootings committed between 2014 and 2019 were domestic violence incidents or crimes of shooters with a history of domestic violence. Devin P. Kelley, who killed twenty-six people at a church in Texas, was investigated in an alleged sexual assault case by the Comal County Sheriff’s Office. Samuel Cassidy, a mass shooter who killed eight people and himself in San Jose, was accused of being a rapist and sexual assault.

Traces of Father Byron can be seen in these mass shooters. Despite being fictional, the character and his crimes remind us of the brutal and tragic reality behind several murderers who existed in real life.

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