YouTube user in Toronto helps thwart Arizona school shooting plot

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew
Authorities in Arizona, with the help of Toronto police, have arrested a 16-year-old high school girl who they say was plotting to gun down her classmates and then kill herself.

It is hard to believe that another attack on a public school could come so soon after the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, where 26 teachers and students were gunned down last week.

But that could have been the case, had it not been for a Toronto blogger who spotted a threat posted online and took action that led to the arrest of a 16-year-old girl in Mesa, Arizona.

CBC reports that Ryerson University student Alex Haney noticed the comment posted on a YouTube channel where he runs an online diary about his experience as a transgender person.

[ Related: Arizona cops foil school shooting plot with help from Toronto police ]

"It could have been a hoax, it could have just been meaningless," Haney told the network, but said decided to alert Toronto police just in case.

It could have been a hoax, but all signs suggest that it wasn’t.

The threat was tracked to Arizona, where local authorities were alerted and arrested a 16-year-old girl who admitted to making the threats. Three guns were found in her home, including a semi-automatic handgun. She faces charges of computer tampering and uttering threats.

There is no way to say whether an attack was imminent, or whether the girl would have ever followed through with her plan. Because a member of the online community stepped forward, lives may have been saved, including the girl herself.

Score one for the good guys. Score one for social involvement and public awareness.

It seems that the disturbed youth who are most commonly linked to such public attacks are also the type to search out a community on the Internet. Loners in their own lives, they seek out both contact and anonymity online. An in that new community, they talk about what might be done to their old one.

According to the New York Times, a recent study suggests 30 per cent of Facebook posts could be considered signs of clinical depression.

The Washington Post reports that an Ohio school shooting could have been avoided earlier this year, had comments the shooter made on Twitter been taken seriously.

Two years ago, a British Columbia man helped stop a possible Texas school shooting after reporting a conversation he had while playing Xbox video games online.

RCMP and Microsoft officials tracked down the user, who had named specific students he was going to attack, and alerted San Antonio police.

[ Related: Newtown tragedy caps a year of mass shootings ]

An investigation by the National School Safety and Security Services found that reported Internet comments also helped stop possible school shootings in Michigan and Kansas, in 2004.

Online threats made in North Carolina and California were also investigated the following year.

As answers are sought in the wake of the Newtown school shooting, one suggestion might be taking online threats more seriously. Not every sad statement is masking a terrible agenda. But if reporting even one concerning comment gets someone the help they need, we are one step ahead in the game.