He could be cryptic, demeaning and scary, sending angry messages and photos of guns. If they didn’t respond how he wanted, he sometimes threatened to rape or kidnap them — then laughed it off as some big joke.
But the girls and young women who talked with Salvador Ramos online in the months before he allegedly killed 19 children in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, rarely reported him. His threats seemed too vague, several said in interviews with The Washington Post. One teen who reported Ramos on the social app Yubo said nothing happened as a result.
Some also suspected this was just how teen boys talked on the Internet these days — a blend of rage and misogyny so predictable they could barely tell each one apart. One girl, discussing moments when he had been creepy and threatening, said that was just “how online is.”
In the aftermath of the deadliest school shooting in a decade, many have asked what more could have been done — how an 18-year-old who spewed so much hate to so many on the Web could do so without provoking punishment or raising alarm.
But these threats hadn’t been discovered by parents, friends or teachers. They’d been seen by strangers, many of whom had never met him and had found him only through the social messaging and video apps that form the bedrock of modern teen life.
A 16-year-old boy in Austin who said he saw Ramos frequently in Yubo panels, told The Post that Ramos frequently made aggressive, sexual comments to young women on the app and sent him a death threat during one panel in January.
“I witnessed him harass girls and threaten them with sexual assault, like rape and kidnapping,” said the teen. “It was not like a single occurrence. It was frequent.”
He and his friends reported Ramos’s account to Yubo for bullying and other infractions dozens of times. He never heard back, he said, and the account remained active.
Yubo spokeswoman Amy Williams would not say whether the company received reports of abuse related to Ramos’s account. “As there is an ongoing and active investigation and because this information concerns a specific individual’s data, we are not legally able to share these details publicly at this time,” she said in an email. Williams would not say what law prevents the company from commenting.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday that Ramos had also written, “I’m going to shoot my grandmother” and “I’m going to shoot an elementary school” shortly before the attack in messages on Facebook. And Texas Department of Public Safety officials said Friday that Ramos had discussed buying a gun several times in private chats on Instagram.
Ten days before the shooting, he wrote in one of the messages, “10 more days,” according to the official. Another person wrote to him, “Are you going to shoot up a school or something?” to which Ramos responded, “No, stop asking dumb questions. You’ll see,” the official said.
Many of Ramos’ threats to assault women, the young women added, barely stood out from the undercurrent of sexism that pervades the Internet — something they said they have fought back against but also come to accept.
A 2021 Pew Research Center study found these experiences are common for young people, with about two-thirds of adults under 30 reporting that they’ve experienced online harassment. Thirty-three percent of women under 35 say they have been sexually harassed online.
Danielle K. Citron, a law professor at University of Virginia, said women and girls often don’t report threats of rape to law enforcement or trusted adults because they have been socialized to feel they do not deserve safety and privacy online. Sometimes, they don’t think anyone would help them.
Women and girls have “internalized the view, ‘What else do we expect?’” said Citron, the author of the upcoming book “The Fight for Privacy: Protecting Dignity, Identity, and Love in the Digital Age.” “Our safety and intimate privacy is something that society doesn’t value.”
Misogyny and a history of domestic violence is an extremely common factor across mass shooting incidents. We’ve known this for a long time. If we can’t bring ourselves to talk about guns and gun control, and we’re not stupid enough to waste our time on the Republican talking points, maybe we can spare a few words about ways that we could maybe reduce some of this hateful, rage-filled behavior. I’d bet that would have a lot of benefit beyond lowering the threat of mass shootings. I’m not saying this will be easy, but we know what the alternative is. May as well give it a try, you know?