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Crime

Shooter warning signs get lost in sea of social media posts

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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

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Alberta

Fatality inquiry begins into death of Calgary teen who weighed 37 pounds

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CALGARY — An Alberta judge is looking for answers in the case of a 15-year-old boy who died in his Calgary home weighing less than 37 pounds.

Alexandru Radita died in May 2013 of bacterial sepsis brought on by complications due to untreated diabetes and starvation.

His parents, who had moved from B.C. to Alberta, were found guilty in 2017 of first-degree murder.

Witnesses at the trial testified that the Raditas refused to accept their son had diabetes, failed to treat his disease and kept him isolated at home.

Alberta provincial court Judge Sharon Van de Veen said Monday the fatality inquiry will seek to find out what could have been done to save the boy’s life and prevent other cases like this from happening again.

There were government officials involved throughout this child’s life, including child and family services in the province of British Columbia and doctors and pharmacists,” Van de Veen said.

“I will not be reviewing the facts relating to the horror of this child’s life. My purpose is going to be to review to what extent the state itself could have intervened in the life of this child to save his life.”

Van de Veen said the inquiry, which is scheduled to run all week, will see if protocols between the children’s services ministries in Alberta and B.C. would help in similar cases. She also questioned if a pharmacists association could provide assistance when insulin is accessed sporadically for patients.

The first day of the inquiry focused on whether Alex’s lack of attendance in his home-schooling could have alerted officials.

He was enrolled in a Catholic home-schooling program in September 2009 for Grade 5, but not a single piece of work from him was submitted. Teachers and a principal attempted to contact his parents through phone calls and letters throughout the school year but were not able to reach them.

Michel Despins, vice-principal of the School of Hope online school, said 25 attempts were made to reach the Raditas. Neither Alex nor his three siblings ever submitted school work.

Despins said there are now electronic records for each student, but any information about a student not registering is only available in Alberta.

Despins offered some possible solutions, including that a previous school board get an alert if a student is no longer registered anywhere.

He said there needs to be a protocol on what to do if that happens and parents can’t be reached.

“If in September we get an alert and we contact the parents and they register somewhere else, no problem. But if they do not, what’s the standard protocol to do with that?” he asked.

“Do you submit it to social services?”

Van de Veen said the inquiry will only hear from witnesses from Alberta, even though there were protection orders for Alex in place in B.C.

Emil Radita, Alex’s father, is watching the proceedings from prison in B.C.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2022.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Pressfficials involved throughout this child’s life, including child and family services in the province of British Columbia and doctors and pharmacists,” Van de Veen said.

“I will not be reviewing the facts relating to the horror of this child’s life. My purpose is going to be to review to what extent the state itself could have intervened in the life of this child to save his life.”

Van de Veen said the inquiry, which is scheduled to run all week, will see if protocols between the children’s services ministries in Alberta and B.C. would help in similar cases. She also questioned if a pharmacists association could provide assistance when insulin is accessed sporadically for patients.

The first day of the inquiry focused on whether Alex’s lack of attendance in his home-schooling could have alerted officials.

He was enrolled in a Catholic home-schooling program in September 2009 for Grade 5, but not a single piece of work from him was submitted. Teachers and a principal attempted to contact his parents through phone calls and letters throughout the school year but were not able to reach them.

Michel Despins, vice-principal of the School of Hope online school, said 25 attempts were made to reach the Raditas. Neither Alex nor his three siblings ever submitted school work.

Despins said there are now electronic records for each student, but any information about a student not registering is only available in Alberta.

Despins offered some possible solutions, including that a previous school board get an alert if a student is no longer registered anywhere.

He said there needs to be a protocol on what to do if that happens and parents can’t be reached.

“If in September we get an alert and we contact the parents and they register somewhere else, no problem. But if they do not, what’s the standard protocol to do with that?” he asked.

“Do you submit it to social services?”

Van de Veen said the inquiry will only hear from witnesses from Alberta, even though there were protection orders for Alex in place in B.C.

Emil Radita, Alex’s father, is watching the proceedings from prison in B.C.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2022.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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Crime

Day parole extended for woman who killed Victoria teenager Reena Virk 25 years ago

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Vancouver – Day parole has been extended for a woman convicted of murdering Victoria teenager Reena Virk almost 25 years ago.

A Parole Board of Canada decision says 40-year-old Kerry Sim, who was formerly known as Kelly Ellard, has been authorized to remain on day parole but with numerous conditions.

Sim was 15 years old when she and a group of teenagers swarmed and beat Virk, and her trial heard she and a co-accused later followed the 14-year-old girl to continue the beating and drown her in the Gorge waterway.

The parole board’s decision, released Friday, says Sim has remained focused on her two sons since her parole was revoked for two months last year over a positive drug test, her confession that she’d sipped wine and indications of mutual violence in her relationship with her partner.

Day parole was reinstated last October and the two-member panel now says Sim has made progress in her reintegration, although there’s concern that when she’s faced with multiple stressors it can result in poor decision-making.

In addition to conditions imposed not to consume drugs or alcohol and not to have contact with certain people, the board ordered Sim to follow psychiatric treatment to address her anxiety and other mental health issues.

The board also suggests that she look for employment, saying in the decision that she seems reluctant to move ahead with the steps necessary to find work.

Sim’s case management team also recommended her day parole be extended, the decision says.

“You have positive community support from your mother, (community residential) staff, and the family of your partner. The same special conditions currently in place are recommended for this new period of day parole.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2022.

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