As Mass Killings Continued, So Did Plans For Dozens More
July 5, 2020
Here’s what didn’t happen in America in the past several days:
Tristan Scott Wix, a 25-year-old man from Daytona Beach, Florida, didn’t “break a world record for longest confirmed kill ever” with “a good 100 kills,” as he had allegedly threatened. James Reardon Jr., a 22-year-old self-professed white nationalist from New Middleton, Ohio, didn’t open fire on a Jewish community center in nearby Youngstown. Brandon Wagshol, a 22-year-old man from Norwalk, Connecticut, never got away with “committing a mass shooting,” with the rifle police say he had been building and the large-capacity rifle magazines he was allegedly trying to buy from out of state.
The feared shootings never happened, but they just as easily could have.
And, over just the past week, plans for a whole lot more butchery were apparently well underway.
Only diligent police work, clues snagged from the web of crazy on social media and concerned citizens willing to come forward seem to have averted carnage on a scale that would have been remarkable even in a country left aghast at the number of mass shootings that continue to leave blood, death and grief in bars, stores, workplaces and just about every other random attack zone in the United States.
Wix was arrested Aug. 16 by authorities in Volusia County, Florida, after his ex-girlfriend turned over sinister text messages to police. He told detectives he doesn’t own firearms, but is fascinated with mass shootings, police said. An acquaintance of Reardon grew increasingly disturbed over a video he’d posted that showed him shooting a rifle in the air as sirens wailed in people screamed in the background. It included the caption: “Police identified the Youngstown Jewish Family Community shooter as local white nationalist Seamus O’Rearedon.” A citizen tipped off the FBI that Wagshol was “attempting to purchase large-capacity rifle magazines from out of state,” the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center. He was arrested on Aug. 14, and authorities said they seized a .40 caliber handgun, a .22 caliber rifle, a rifle scope with a laser, four firearm optic sites, a firearm flashlight, body armor with a titanium plate, a full camouflage outfit, a ballistic helmet, tactical gloves, a camouflage bag, computers, and numerous .40 caliber, .22 caliber and .300 blackout rounds of ammunition, police said.
Those three suspects are among almost 30 potential mass shooters that have been arrested by police in the weeks since the weekend of Aug.3-4, when 31 people were killed in back-to-back attacks in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
‘People Are Being Slaughtered’
America can’t afford to wait for politicians to act, said Volusia County, Florida, Sheriff Michael J. Chitwood, whose 32-year police career includes 18 years as a homicide detective in Philadelphia and 10 ½ years as Daytona Beach’s chief of police.
“We can argue gun control until the cows come home,” Chitwood told Patch. “In the meantime, people are being slaughtered. We have to do what we can on the ground level.”
Village of New Middleton Police Chief Vincent D’Egidio told Patch investigators “ramped things up very quickly” after getting a tip from an acquaintance of Reardon, who grew increasingly disturbed about the video he had posted online July 11 that seemed to be “a future headline” about a shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Youngstown, about 14 miles away.
An officer in the small police department got the tip the afternoon of Aug. 9, and he was in custody by 10:45 that night.
New Middleton is a small town of only about 1,700, and Reardon blended in well. He lived in a nice home, and it wasn’t until after he was in custody that police learned he had attended the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
D’Egidio declined to speculate whether Reardon would have carried out attack on the Jewish community center, but he had assembled the means to do so. “He had semi-assault rifles, 100-plus rounds ammunition, a gas mask, tactical gear, bayonets and a rifle with a bayonet on it,” the police chief said.
“People always say ‘it’s never going to happen here, it’ll never happen here,” D’Egidio said. “But look what happened here.
“When somebody becomes aware of a threat or sees signs or comments that are not in the norm of daily activities — whether a family member, coworker or whatever — notify somebody right away,” he said. “Usually, after these shootings, it comes out that X-amount of people had knowledge of it. We need to take people off the streets that are a threat to our communities.”
Though the string of arrests suggest people are more willing to tip off police about mass shooting threats, there are others — even mothers — who continue to sweep aside warning signs.
A 15-year-old boy in Volusia County, Florida, was arrested Aug. 16 after he wrote on an online gaming platform that he wanted to kill at least seven people at Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach. When investigators handcuffed him, his mother protested that he was “just a little boy” playing a video game.
“He’s not one of those crazy people out there doing stuff,” the sobbing mother said.
“You know, that’s what everybody says, that they’re kidding,” Chitwood said. “We don’t have a crystal ball. We can’t take this risk. You wouldn’t allow your kid to stand up in an airplane and yell ‘Hijack! Hijack! Hijack!” or in a movie theater and yell ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’
“The First Amendment does not allow that, and it doesn’t allow you to say you’re going to kill seven of your classmates, or you’re going to shoot the principal in the head, or you’re going to become the most prolific mass shooter in history.”
The arrests since early August are a signal of a new, more aggressive approach by law enforcement in response to a wave of mass shootings — 263 of them this year alone that have killed 292 and injured 1,081, according to the Gun Violence database, which is current through Wednesday.
‘If You See Something, Say Something’
Hours after the El Paso and Dayton massacres, FBI Director Christopher Wray directed the agency’s field offices to scour social media and make threat assessments in an effort to stop more mass attacks.
That’s a Herculean task with an estimated 169.5 million Facebook users, 110 million Instagram users and 48.6 million Twitter users in the United State alone. But the Florida teen’s arrest did come from a tip to the FBI about the statements he made on the gaming platform, Chitwood said.
The El Paso and Dayton attacks underscore “the continued threat posed by domestic violent extremists and perpetrators of hate crimes,” the FBI said. Authorities worried the violence could inspire more shootings.
The agency said it was was working with state and local police for information-sharing through its Domestic Terrorism-Hate Crimes Fusion Cell, established this year, and also called on the American public to report suspicious behavior they see online or in person to law enforcement agencies.
Police have been criticized in the past as being lackadaisical about responding to threats, but the volume of threats has put federal, state, county and city law enforcement officers “all on the same page, and tips are vetted by everybody, collated and acted on,” Chitwood said. “You saw it in here in Florida, you saw it in Connecticut and you saw it in Ohio.
“People are starting to grasp ‘if you see something, say something,’ ” he continued, saying the “real heroes” in the arrests of the 15-year-old online gamer and Wix, both by Volusia County authorities, are the people who reported their threats to authorities.
The teen’s case has been remanded to the juvenile court system. He’ll either be charged criminally or ordered to undergo a battery of psychological testing. If he’s released, he’ll be subject to monitoring, Chitwood said.
He’s also a fan of creative sentencing that would require teens who post threats, even if they don’t intend to carry through, to “sit down with the parents” of students whose lives were cut short in the Parkland, Florida, school massacre in 2018. Kids who joke or make light of school shootings need to see how those grieving families still struggle with and may never fully recover from the tragedy.
Admiration For Las Vegas Sniper
As for Wix, “he fit the profile of an active shooter,” Chitwood said. “The person he admired and talked about was the Las Vegas sniper. He wanted to kill 100 people, he wanted to die having fun, and what’s more fun than killing other people while you’re dying? He wanted to make a statement — that’s what a suicide bomber does.”
After the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, authorities in his state received “hundreds upon hundreds of threats to students,” he said. “Logically, you would think it would be the opposite, but it opened up some kind of Pandora’s box of hate and violence.”
Since then, Florida authorities have taken a zero-tolerance approach to threats.
“Every single threat gets treated as if it’s a real threat, and all the resources are going to be thrown at it whether it’s at 1 a.m. or 1 p.m.,” Chitwood said. “We can’t afford not to. People are dying.”
Unfortunately, he said, “somebody always flies below the radar, is motivated, has access to firearms and wants to die and kill as many people as he can, and there’s no way to stop this.”
Mass Shootings That Didn’t Happen
For now, though, Americans can take solace in the mass shootings that didn’t happen. From Patch and other media sources, here are the publicized arrests:
Aug. 4: A day after the El Paso massacre, a 31-year-old man threatened to shoot up a Walmart store in the Tampa, Florida, area, police said. He faces a false threat charge.
Aug. 7: A 13-year-old from Weslaco, Texas, faces a charge of making a terrorist threat after a social media post that prompted a local Walmart store to evacuate, authorities said on Facebook. His mother took him to the police station for questioning.
Aug. 8: A man wearing body armor and armed with a handgun and rifle who walked into a Springfield Walmart was charged with making a terrorist threat, police said. He claimed later that he was conducting a “social experiment” and didn’t intend to cause a panic.
Aug. 9: A 20-year-old man New Middletown, Ohio, who threatened in a social media video to carry out a mass shooting at a Jewish community center was arrested.
Aug. 9: The FBI said a 23-year-old Las Vegas man planned to attack a synagogue and a gay bar, but was arrested before he could carry it out. Authorities found bomb-making materials at his home, and he was charged with possessing destructive devices.
Aug. 9: A 26-year-old Winter Park, Florida, man police said embraces white supremacist ideology was charged with making a written threat to kill after he wrote that he would get his AR-15 assault weapon back when he got off probation in three days. “Don’t go to Walmart next week,” he wrote.
Aug. 10: Police in Harlingen, Texas, arrested a man for making a terrorist threat after he posted a threat to Walmart on social media.
Aug. 11: A 28-year-old Palm Beach County, Florida, mother who was upset her children would have to attend a different elementary school under zoning changes threatened to carry out a school shooting, police said.
Aug. 11: A Mississippi teen who made a social media post threatening to shoot up his high school was taken into custody, though police said they determined later he didn’t have the means to carry out the threat.
Aug. 12: The FBI said an 18-year-old Ohio man threatened to “shoot every federal agent on sight” on a social media post that showed support for the Waco, Texas, siege in 1993. Authorities found a stockpile of weapons and ammunition when they searched his home.
Aug. 12: A 25-year-old Jefferson County, West Virginia, man was charged with making online terrorist threats to kill people, and police said they recovered several PVC pipes and pistols.
Aug. 13: Police said 15-year-old Albert Lea, Minnesota, girl was arrested and charged for threatening in a social media post to “shoot up” her high school.
Aug. 13: A 35-year-old man was arrested at a Phoenix motel for threatening to blow up an Army recruiting station. Text messages found on his phone referenced other terrorism acts in the United States, police said.
Aug. 14: Police and the FBI said a 22-year-old Norwalk, Connecticut, man was arrested after he expressed interest on social media in “committing a mass shooting” and was building a rifle.
Aug. 14: Police in Austin, Texas, arrested a 23-year-old-man after receiving a report he left a loaded rifle at a popular destination park for families. Police said he was in possession of an arsenal of weapons, including a rifle outfitted with a bipod, sight scope and 30-round magazine.
Aug. 15: A 15-year-old Fresno, California, girl who posted an online photo of a Walmart gun case containing rifles with the caption, “Don’t come to school tomorrow,” was charged with making terrorist threats, police said.
Aug. 16: The Volusia County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office said a 15-year-old boy threatened on an online gaming platform to take his father’s M-15 rifle to school and shoot a minimum of seven people.
Aug. 16: A 25-year-old Daytona Beach, Florida, man was arrested after he threatened a mass shooting and said he hoped to kill about 100 people, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said.
Aug. 16: Two juveniles in Mississippi were arrested after police said they made sent threatening social media messages that prompted two Tupelo schools to go on partial lockdown.
Aug. 16: Tempe, Arizona, police arrested a 14-year-old who made online school threats and faces multiple charges, police said.
Aug. 16: A 19-year-old Chicago man was arrested after making online threats to “slaughter and murder” people at a women’s reproductive health clinic, federal prosecutors said.
Aug. 16: Seattle police arrested a 35-year-old Clarksburg, Maryland, man who made multiple posts on Facebook threatening to kill a south Florida resident and “kill all Hispanics” in Miami and other places, federal prosecutors said.
Aug. 18: A 33-year-old Reed City, Michigan, man was arrested after police said he posted online videos threatening Ferris State University and other locations, police said.
Aug. 18: An 18-year-old man was arrested by Claremore, Oklahoma, police for making social media threats against police officers’ families, authorities said on Facebook.
Aug. 19: A 38-year-old truck driver who said he was haunted by “spiritual snakes and spiders” threatened to carry out a shooting at a Memphis church. He was arrested in Indiana a week before the day of the planned attacks, according to court records.
Aug. 19: Police in Maui, Hawaii, arrested an 18-year-old man who said in a social media post that he intended to carry out a school shooting.
Aug 19: A 37-year-old Rapid City, South Dakota, man was arrested after sending messages to to the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office threatening to blow up local and federal government offices, authorities said. He also posted video throwing rocks and breaking the windshield of a sheriff’s office vehicle. He faces multiple charges.
Aug. 20: A 37-year-old Long Beach, California, man was arrested after he told a coworker he planned to carry out a mass shooting at the hotel where he was a chef over a human resources issue, police said. Police discovered an arsenal of weapons at his home.