RCMP in British Columbia were alerted at least five times over the course of nearly two years about the ongoing sexual extortion of Amanda Todd before the teen committed suicide, CBC’s the fifth estate has learned.
Amanda, 15, committed suicide in her mother’s Port Coquitlam home on Oct. 10, 2012.
Her death garnered intense public attention because of a YouTube video she posted weeks before her death detailing the relentless bullying she endured after a topless picture of her was shared via social media.
The B.C. teen had been the target of a sexual extortionist for nearly two years after she flashed a crowd by webcam while on a live streaming chat site.
Someone captured a freeze frame of the teen topless and then used that photo to repeatedly try to blackmail her for more webcam “shows.”
After Amanda’s death, the internet exploded with rumours about who drove her to commit suicide. The case became a priority for the RCMP. Twenty officers were assigned to the case.
RCMP say the investigation is ongoing and would not comment on their progress or if the focus of their investigation is on those who bullied Amanda, or finding those responsible for the blackmail.
‘Nobody dug deep’
But Amanda’s family is questioning whether more could have been done by authorities while the teen was still alive.
“Nobody dug deep enough to find the answers for Amanda,” the teen’s mother, Carol Todd, told the fifth estate’s Mark Kelley. “Maybe for the reasons that no one anticipated her outcome either. So you think of it as just another report, just another child.”
Carol Todd contacted the Mounties each time Amanda received a new blackmail threat, the fifth estate found.
CBC-TV’s investigative show also obtained exclusive access to the B.C. girl’s two computers containing extensive chat logs that reveal how she dealt with the fallout from the ongoing extortion efforts.
Amanda’s troubles began in late 2010 when she was on her webcam with more than 150 viewers watching her on the now-defunct BlogTV livestream video site. When she lifted her shirt, someone captured a freeze frame and posted the photo to a porn site.
Then someone sent a link to that picture to her Facebook friends, including her mother. A friend told her parents and they called police.
RCMP tracked down Amanda at her father’s house, knocking on the door at 4 a.m. to check whether the Grade 7 student was safe. She played it off as goofing around and said it wasn’t a huge deal.
Tormented at school
On Christmas Eve, Amanda’s mother received an anonymous Facebook message warning that her daughter was being extorted by men who troll sites looking for such pictures and then blackmail the girls for more photos or online performances. Carol Todd quickly shared the message with the police.
Meanwhile, the picture made the rounds at school via social media. Schoolmates tormented her by calling her a “camwhore” and “porn star.” It drove her to change schools, hoping for a fresh start, her father Norm Todd says.
In the spring of 2011, the blackmailer tracked down Amanda and again used threats to try to elicit more webcam shows. Carol Todd alerted the RCMP again.
Then in the fall of 2011, police were notified for the third time. Staff at Amanda’s new school alerted them after several teachers were sent her topless picture by email.
Carol Todd said she felt like police weren’t taking her concerns seriously, despite the case moving beyond the realm of cyberbullying into sexual extortion – a new crime exploding on the internet.
In October of 2011, the blackmailer appeared for the fourth time, this time sending a Facebook message, which was obtained by the fifth estate.
“U already forgot who I am? The guy who last year made you change school. Got your door kicked in by the cops,” the message said. “Give me 3 shows and I will disappear forever. you know I won’t stop until you give me those 3 shows.”
“If u go to a new school, new bf, new friends, new whatever, I will be there again,” it continued. “I am crazy yes. so your answer?”
Police strategy questioned
Carol Todd handed this clue to the RCMP in hopes they could catch whoever was responsible for tormenting her daughter.
In November, an RCMP constable emailed her about the case, suggesting they couldn’t do much to help her.
“I would highly recommend that Amanda close all her Facebook and email accounts at this time,” the constable wrote to the then 14-year-old’s mother. “If Amanda does not stay off the internet and/or take steps to protect herself online … there is only so much we as the police can do.”
Carol Todd responded by suggesting the police might be able to bait the predator. Both parents, who are separated, were feeling helpless.
“When the police can't accomplish anything, what does that tell you?” said her father, Norm Todd. “It's very difficult because how can you comfort your daughter or anybody when you've got something you can't control yourself and they can see that you can't stop or control it?”
Though the RCMP in B.C. did not act on Carol Todd’s suggestion, baiting a predator is strategy employed successfully by the Ontario Provincial Police’s integrated child exploitation unit.
“We’ll actually assume their accounts and we’ll continue chatting with [the] individual to try and get ourselves in a position where we can identify them and then go get them,” said Det.-Sgt. Frank Goldschmidt, the unit’s provincial strategy co-ordinator.
Asking people to cut their online ties isn’t a strategy that tends to work, said Det.-Sgt. Goldschmidt.
“It doesn’t take long for the offender to re-establish a connection through another means, whether it’s another chat forum on the internet or simple email,” he said.
The RCMP in B.C. never took over Amanda’s accounts to try to track down the blackmailer, even though in November of 2011 he returned again.
‘Cry myself to sleep’
A fake Facebook account was created by someone posing as a new student at Amanda’s school. The person connected with her Facebook friends then switched his profile picture to the infamous photo of her topless.
It was nearly a year since the picture of Amanda had first circulated and the stress was taking a toll.
“Ever since all this happened, I just cry myself to sleep because it hurts no matter what,” Amanda said in one Skype chat obtained by the fifth estate.
On Sept. 7, 2012, a month before her death, Amanda took to her webcam again, this time to try to tell her side of the story and to explain how she became a victim of bullying.
Some mistakenly believed the cue-card video was a message about her suicide plans.
“It was not,” said Carol Todd. “It was a release. She wanted her story out there, especially to the people that were harassing her.”
Watch the fifth estate Friday at 9 p.m. (9:30 in N.L.) for an exclusive look into the online world of Amanda Todd.