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An Instagram ‘troll’ impersonated the Parkland shooter to harass victims’ families and friends, FBI says

A makeshift memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a shooting on Feb. 14 left 17 people dead. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

The messages started in late December, just as the families and friends of the 17 people who died in a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., prepared to face the holidays for the first time since the massacre last February.

“I killed your loved ones hahaha,” said one.

“Your grief is my joy,” said another.

“They had their whole lives ahead of them and I . . . stole it from them,” said a third.

The source was an Instagram account with the username @nikolas.killed.your.sister — an apparent reference to Parkland shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz. According to the FBI, it belonged to Brandon Fleury, a resident of Santa Ana, Calif., who was arrested last week after investigators determined he had created multiple Instagram accounts that were used to taunt the friends and family of Parkland victims, often choosing usernames that invoked Cruz and serial killer Ted Bundy.

On Friday, Fleury was charged with using interstate commerce to transmit a kidnapping threat and using a computer service for harassment and intimidation. The criminal complaint filed in the Southern District of Florida alleges he spent several weeks harassing victims' relatives by tagging them in Instagram posts and writing comments that cheered their loved ones’ deaths. After his arrest last week, Fleury reportedly told detectives that he was fascinated by mass killers and had been trying to “troll” Parkland families who had developed a large social media following because of their activism.

Fleury is awaiting trial and is scheduled to make his initial court appearance on Jan. 28. Court records do not indicate that he has been assigned a lawyer, and it’s unclear what type of penalty he might be facing.

On New Year’s Eve, Fleury allegedly used the alias @nikolasthemurderer to harass Max Schachter, a Parkland father who became an advocate for school safety after the shooting and contemplated running for office, telling him that his son, Alex, who died in the mass shooting, “will never play music again.” (As with other victims referenced in the charging documents, the father and son are identified only by their initials.) Nearly all of the other messages highlighted in the criminal complaint were aimed at the brother and the best friend of Jaime Guttenberg, a 14-year-old who died in the shooting and whose father, Fred, is an anti-gun-violence activist with more than 150,000 followers on Twitter.

According to the FBI, Fleury used Instagram’s tagging feature to “mention” Guttenberg’s brother and her best friend, identified as L.S. in the complaint, in early-morning posts from @nikolas.killed.your.sister on Dec. 22. “I took a s--- on your sister’s grave,” said one that mentioned Guttenberg’s brother and was accompanied by the crying-while-laughing emoji, the applause emoji and three poop emoji.

“Did you like my Valentines gift?” said one that tagged her best friend. “I killed your friends."

The Broward Sheriff’s Office and the FBI began investigating. Two days later, on Christmas Eve, a blitz of messages came from three other Instagram accounts.

“You’ll never see Jaime again, little orphan,” wrote @bullseyetauntsyou_. “Nikolas took her from you.”

“How’s Jamie, hun?” asked @angie.and.lola. “Dead huh?”

“I stole your sister’s future, buddy,” bragged @nik.taunts_. “With the power of my AR-15.”

On Christmas Day, Guttenberg’s brother and best friend were tagged in yet another series of disturbing posts, this time from an Instagram account that seemed to be referencing Ted Bundy. “I’m your abductor,” wrote @teddykillspeople. “I’m kidnapping you fool.” The same Instagram user also claimed to have killed Janice Ott and Denise Naslund — two of Bundy’s victims who were abducted and murdered in 1974.

The complaint alleges that Fleury also posted comments that targeted Fred Guttenberg in December but inadvertently tagged an Instagram account that belongs to someone else.

More taunts came in January from a user going by @the.douglas.shooter and claiming to have killed Scott Beigel, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas who was fatally shot while trying to escort students to safety. “With the power of my AR-15, I take your loved ones away from you PERMANENTLY,” the user wrote on Jan. 11. “Hahaha! I’m the Douglas shooter! SCREAM!!” Viewing the messages as a threat of murder, Instagram voluntarily handed over the IP address associated with the account to law enforcement.

Through a subpoena to Instagram, investigators determined that the posts from @teddykillspeople, @nikolas.killed.your.sister, @angie.and.lola and @nik.taunts_ were also made from the same IP address, which they traced to a private WiFi network registered in Fleury’s father’s name. FBI agents and other law enforcement officers descended on his home early in the morning of Jan. 16. According to the criminal complaint, Fleury commented that they were probably there because of “some stupid s---” that he had done on the Internet. Later, he admitted to writing the messages on his tablet computer and told investigators that he had created multiple Instagram accounts because he knew that his posts would get him kicked off the site.

Fleury told detectives that he had been “trying to ‘get reactions’ from people and be controversial and “was motivated by gaining popularity and notoriety after posting the messages,” FBI Special Agent Cameron McDowell wrote. He reportedly said that he felt no remorse but had not intended to follow through on his threats, which he claimed “were ‘more like taunts.’ "

A detective asked if he could see why messages like “I am your abductor” and “I am kidnapping you, fool” would seem like a threat.

“I guess so,” he replied.

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