WASHINGTON (AP) — The warning signs were there for anyone to stumble upon, days before the 18-year-old gunman entered a Texas elementary school and slaughtered 19 children and two teachers.
There was the Instagram photo of a hand holding a gun magazine, a TikTok profile that warned, “Kids be scared,” and the image of two AR-style semi-automatic rifles displayed on a rug, pinned to the top of the killer’s Instagram profile.
Shooters are leaving digital trails that hint at what’s to come long before they actually pull the trigger.
“When somebody starts posting pictures of guns they started purchasing, they’re announcing to the world that they’re changing who they are,” said Katherine Schweit, a retired FBI agent who spearheaded the agency’s active shooter program. “It absolutely is a cry for help. It’s a tease: can you catch me?”
The foreboding posts, however, are often lost in an endless grid of Instagram photos that feature semi-automatic rifles, handguns and ammunition. There’s even a popular hashtag devoted to encouraging Instagram users to upload daily photos of guns with more than 2 million posts attached to it.
For law enforcement and social media companies, spotting a gun post from a potential mass shooter is like sifting through quicksand, Schweit said. That’s why she tells people not to ignore those type of posts, especially from children or young adults. Report it, she advises, to a school counselor, the police or even the FBI tip line.
Increasingly, young men have taken to Instagram, which boasts a thriving gun community, to drop small hints of what’s to come with photos of their own weapons just days or weeks before executing a mass killing.
Before shooting 17 students and staff members dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, Nikolas Cruz posted on YouTube that he wanted to be a “professional school shooter” and shared photos of his face covered, posing with guns. The FBI took in a tip about Cruz’s YouTube comment but never followed up with Cruz.
In November, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley shared a photo of a semi-automatic handgun his dad had purchased with the caption, “Just got my new beauty today,” days before he went on to kill four students and injure seven others at his high school in Oxford Township, Michigan.
And days before entering a school classroom on Tuesday and killing 19 small children and two teachers, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos left similar clues across Instagram.
On May 20, the day that law enforcement officials say Ramos purchased a second rifle, a picture of two AR-style semi-automatic rifles appeared on his Instagram. He tagged another Instagram user with more than 10,000 followers in the photo. In an exchange, later shared by that user, she asks why he tagged her in the photo.
“I barely know you and u tag me in a picture with some guns,” the Instagram user wrote, adding, “It’s just scary.”
The school district in Uvalde had even spent money on software that, using geofencing technology, monitors for potential threats in the area.
Ramos, however, didn’t make a direct threat in posts. Having recently turned 18, he was legally allowed to own the weapons in Texas.
His photos of semi-automatic rifles are one of many on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube where it’s commonplace to post pictures or videos of guns and shooter training videos are prevalent. YouTube prohibits users from posting instructions on how to convert firearms to automatic. But Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, does not limit photos or hashtags around firearms.
That makes it difficult for platforms to separate people posting gun photos as part of a hobby from those with violent intent, said Sara Aniano, a social media and disinformation researcher, most recently at Monmouth University.
“In a perfect world, there would be some magical algorithm that could detect a worrisome photo of a gun on Instagram,” Aniano said. “For a lot of reasons, that’s a slippery slope and impossible to do when there are people like gun collectors and gunsmiths who have no plan to use their weapon with ill intent.”
Meta said it was working with law enforcement officials Wednesday to investigate Ramos’ accounts. The company declined to answer questions about reports it might have received on Ramos’ accounts.
More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings.
Amanda Seitz, The Associated Press
Civil rights group says Vancouver has at least one secret police station
VANCOUVER — A Spanish civil rights group says Vancouver has at least one secret police station operated by Chinese authorities.
The group Safeguard Defenders said in a report in September that there were Chinese police operations around the world, including three in Toronto, and an updated report names another 48 locations.
Safeguard Defenders, a not-for-profit human rights group, said two of the new locations are in Canada: one in Vancouver and the second unknown.
The group’s previous investigation looked into the expansion of “long-arm policing” and transnational repression imposed by the Chinese government.
Its latest report, titled “Patrol and Persuade,” gathered more evidence on how these police station function and their “persuasions of return” strategies, the group said in its report.
“Patrol and Persuade also documents the silent complicity of a number of host countries, instilling a further sense of fear into targeted communities and severely undermining the international rules-based order,” Safeguard Defenders said in an online statement.
Its previous report alleged employees from the overseas police system use intimidation and threats to enforce the “involuntary” return of immigrants back to China for persecution.
The group claimed that between April 2021 and July 2022, Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 claimed fugitives to return to China.
No one from the Chinese Embassy was immediately available for comment on the new information, but it has previously described the offices as volunteer-run service stations to process things like driver’s licences.
The report said the newly documented Vancouver-based police station is being operated by authorities from Wenzhou, a port and industrial city in China’s Zhejiang province.
It said most of the newly documented stations were set up starting in 2016, directly refuting the government of China’s previous statements that the operations were started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“New information shows at least one illegal ‘persuasion to return’ operation run through the Wenzhou station in Paris, France; and at least 80 cases where the Nantong overseas police system assisted in the capture and/or persuasion to return operation,” the report said.
The group claimed their work prompted at least 12 countries, including Canada, to launch investigations into local police stations.
A series of recommendations have been listed by Safeguard Defenders for all governments to consider, such as educating local law enforcement on the methods used by the operators and imposing costs on entities and individuals involved in the repression efforts.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month he raised the issue of interference directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Indonesia.
Xi later berated him for informing the media about their conversation.
The RCMP said in early November that it is investigating the issue, and officials told MPs in early October that they were aware of the claims by the group.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Nono Shen, The Canadian Press
Suspect in massive fentanyl bust arrested in Edmonton
Release from Alberta RCMP on behalf of Saskatchewan RCMP
Over 10 kgs of fentanyl seized after SK RCMP WEST arrest male wanted on multiple warrants
In the Summer of 2022, the Saskatchewan RCMP Warrant and Enforcement Team (WEST) launched an investigation into the arrest of a 42-year-old Kurt Miller who was wanted on 25 outstanding charges.
Miller was wanted on warrants for his involvement in an incident back in May 2020. The Saskatoon RCMP F-SOC (Federal Serious and Organized Crime) team executed a search warrant near Biggar, SK, and an RCMP ERT (Emergency Response Team) officer was injured after shots were fired by the suspects. Miller was arrested on his outstanding matters but failed to appear at his final court proceedings.
Saskatchewan RCMP WEST working in conjunction with the Regina Police Service, Alberta RCMP, the Edmonton Police Service, Swift Current Saskatchewan RCMP Trafficking Response Team (STRT), RCMP were able to determine that Miller may be in Alberta and actively involved in crime.
On Nov. 1, WEST, along with officers from Moose Jaw RCMP CRT (Crime Reduction Team) and Saskatoon F-SOC deployed to Red Deer, AB, worked in collaboration with the Red Deer ALERT (Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team) and corroborated information to better locate and identify Miller’s whereabouts and activities. Based on all the information gathered by investigators, Miller was believed to be in the city of Edmonton.
The following day, WEST deployed to Edmonton in an effort to locate Miller. Officers conducted proactive patrols and canvassed the areas Miller was believed to have been seen.
On Nov. 3,2022, at 10:00 p.m. WEST was conducting patrols in Edmonton when they observed a male suspect exiting a trailer and placing bags in a vehicle before departing in it. WEST stopped the vehicle along the intersection of 82 Ave and 105 Street. Officers located Miller in the rear seat and he was taken into custody. The driver and female passenger were also taken into custody and released shortly after.
A search of the vehicle incidental to arrest revealed a suitcase and duffle bag containing drug preparation equipment and approximately 10.6 KG of suspected Fentanyl. The Strathcona County RCMP General Investigation Section was advised and have taken carriage of the drug investigation.
As a result of this investigation 42-year-old Kurt Miller of Brownlee, SK, has been charged with the following offences under theControlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) in addition to his outstanding warrants for his arrest:
- Trafficking 5(1) CDSA;
- Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking 5(2) CDSA; and
- Possession of equipment for use in production of substance 7.1(1) CDSA.
Miller was transported back to Saskatchewan to appear in court for his outstanding warrants in relation to the F-SOC investigation. He is scheduled to appear in court in Saskatoon on December 9, 2022, at 11 a.m.
“In this investigation, we seized over 10 kg of fentanyl which had the potential of reaching communities across Saskatchewan and Alberta. Approximately 2 mg of this substance is considered a lethal dose depending on a person’s body size, tolerance and past usage. Our communities are safer because of this drug seizure and the dismantlement of this trafficking operation,” says Superintendent Glenn Church, officer in charge of the Saskatchewan RCMP’s new Saskatchewan Enforcement Response Team (SERT). “This investigation is an example of excellent collaboration between our specialized Saskatchewan RCMP teams and municipal and provincial partner police agencies. Removing illicit drugs from the street and preventing it from reaching our communities continues to be a top priority for the Saskatchewan RCMP.”
The Saskatchewan Enforcement Response Team (SERT) consists of Saskatchewan RCMP’s Crime Reduction Team (CRT) and Warrant Enforcement Suppression Team (WEST), as well as the Saskatchewan Trafficking Response Team (STRT). SERT will help the Saskatchewan RCMP continue to fulfil its mandate as the province’s police force – keeping our communities safe.
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