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FBI, Local Police Arrest Dozens Of People In Effort To Avert Potential Mass Shootings


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Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

The FBI and others have arrested dozens of people across the country in efforts to avert potential mass shootings. The crackdown follows deadly attacks in California, Texas and Ohio.

Domestic terrorists have caused more deaths in the U.S. than international terrorists in recent years. That’s according to the FBI. Almost daily, people are arrested for allegedly threatening to carry out a mass shooting. The latest arrests have come in the aftermath of El Paso, Dayton and Gilroy, Calif. As NPR’s Cheryl Corley reports, law enforcement officials say their actions have prevented several potential mass shootings.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: It’s a scary litany of potential tragedy. A Tennessee man arrested yesterday allegedly posted threats online to shoot up a facility run by Planned Parenthood in Washington, D.C. Also, a hotel chef accused of threatening to carry out a mass shooting at his job in Long Beach, Calif., was arrested. And earlier this month, just days after the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, police in Norwalk, Conn., and the FBI began a joint investigation. Norwalk Police Lieutenant Terry Blake says it began after the FBI received a tip that a 22-year-old Connecticut man, Brandon Wagshol, was a tempting to buy large-capacity magazines out of state.

TERRY BLAKE: During that investigation, they uncovered some historical Facebook posts that show that Wagshol had posted information that he was planning a mass murder and/or interested in mass murder.

CORLEY: And a search of the man’s family home turned up other weapons owned by Wagshol’s father and rifle scopes with lasers and body armor. Wagshol was arrested last week and charged with four counts of illegal possession of large-capacity magazines. He’s due back in court September 6. Consultant Katherine Schweit used to work for the FBI. She led the agency’s active shooter program and also wrote an FBI report on 160 active shooting incidents that occurred from 2000 to 2013. About half of the shootings, she says, occur in places of business with about a quarter taking place in schools.

KATHERINE SCHWEIT: And everybody has in their mind that the shooters are this type of person or that type of person. And we were able to document the shootings and, over this time period, determine that, you know, we really have shooters from as young as 12 to as old as 88 and that, in fact, a lot of them are in that middle range in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

CORLEY: In Florida, the Volusia County sheriff says two people in separate incidents were arrested this month after threatening mass shootings. Tristan Wix, a 24-year-old Daytona Beach man, reportedly sent text messages to an ex-girlfriend. She contacted the police. Wix texted that he wanted to open fire on a large crowd of people, that a good 100 kills would be nice. And he already had a location in mind. Later in the week, another arrest – that after the FBI received a tip about a 15-year-old who said on a video game platform that he would bring his father’s gun to school and kill a minimum of seven people. The teenager admitted making comments about shooting up his school but told authorities he was joking. An officer’s body camera captured the response from the boy’s mother during the arrest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: He shouldn’t be treated though as he is a terrorist or something because he made a silly statement on a stupid video game.

MIKE CHITWOOD: We had to send a message. We cannot tolerate this.

CORLEY: Volusia County sheriff Mike Chitwood said his office receives hundreds of threats when it comes to schools.

CHITWOOD: I don’t have a crystal ball. Nobody does as to, is this kid going to be a shooter or not? We don’t know. So we have to treat every threat the same, and attack it from there.

CORLEY: During an appearance before a House committee hearing on domestic terrorism last spring, assistant FBI director Mike McGarrity said people seem to have embraced the see something, say something mantra the bureau and other agencies have pushed in recent years. He says that should continue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE MCGARRITY: It’s likely an individual, maybe a family member, more specifically a religious leader, a teacher that will see a change in behavior, see a triggering event where they see an individual become radicalized quickly and mobilize to violence. We need that person to speak up and tell us.

CORLEY: And that’s the person, he says, law enforcement agencies need to hear from in order to prevent the horror of another mass shooting.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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