April 9th, 2009
06:15 PM ET

Pittsburgh police massacre – Plenty of warning?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/04/07/pitt.officers.shot/art.poplawski.wpxi.jpg caption="Suspect Richard Poplawski, in an undated North Catholic High yearbook photo, is in police custody."]

David Mattingly | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Robert Poplawski was 22, unemployed and living at home with his mother. His best friend said he had been booted out of Marine boot camp after an altercation with his drill instructor. But Poplawski was not your typical slacker. According to the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, two organizations that track hate groups, Poplawski was busy preparing for the violent collapse of society. He was armed, ready to fight and filled with anti-Semitic and racist views.

When Pittsburgh Police officers came to his house after his mother called 911 to have him tossed out, he allegedly wielded an AK-47 assault rifle. In the shootout and standoff that followed, three officers were murdered. There’s a lot being said about the failure of a 911 dispatcher to warn the officers that there were weapons in the house. But researchers for the ADL and the SPLC say there were clues online long before that Poplawski was armed and dangerous.

The groups say he was a frequent visitor and blogger on the white supremacist website Stormfront.org, where he posted racist comments and made clear he believed in conspiracy theories that the Jews were behind an imminent collapse of the United States. He was apparently fearful and angry. Before his MySpace page was taken down for evidence, he reportedly left a note about how he burned the back on his hand with a cigarette, then burned the back of his other hand “for symmetry.”

Even if police had known about the weapons in the house, how could they have known about the young man who was waiting for them and what he was prepared to do?

Filed under: David Mattingly • Gun Violence
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Sean Dougherty

    If this kind of behavior becomes standard for presumptive arrest, you'd have to arrest most rap stars, who own personal arsenals and make frequent public violent comments directed at law enforcement. You'd have to arrest most professors of Middle Eastern Studies at Ivy League universities too if comments about Jews were included. Better to wait until someone who says something you don't like actually commits a crime before branding him a criminal, even if cases like this happen sometimes.

    April 10, 2009 at 9:56 am |
  2. J.V.Hodgson

    Stop the nonsense questions.
    Ban the ownership or sale of AK 47's M16 or anything like like it including Multiple round so called hunting rifles and max double barrelled shot guns for hunting.
    Legislate the ammunition types to personal gunholders and sale restictions other than from permanently licensed premises which should only be able to service people with proof of permanent residence within its licensed area., and re-registrsation if a person moves, no re-registration it's an illegal firearm, and can be confiscated.
    In such case if the owner may not renew his ownership right for 5 years.
    This implies a ban on "concealed weapons" anywhere same consequences.You have a valid license no need to conceal unless you are up to no good intentions.
    You wanna go shoot in national park ( I'd ban that as well)you need to produce a valid license and valid permit for each visit in advance from the park rangers and let the park ranger decide to Federal stated rules if a permit can be given.
    Concelaed weapons the risk is the same banned from holding any weapon for 5 years.
    The right to bear arms is not taken away, simply laws and rules of the type of guns and ammunition capability and locations from which they are availableis restricted with Federal laws defing how such sales outlets can operate.
    Law enforcement officers should not be facing an AK 47 or M16or other monstruos Sniper rifles with steel fe-inforced bulletsor guns and amunition that can blow you into two pieces from a mile away!
    The founding fathers had no idea what todays weapons and ammunition could do to society.
    Gosh one of my relatives emigrated to UK, and was appalled to find out that:-
    a) He had to keep the gun in a safe.
    b) Was limited to how much ammunition he could have at any one time
    c) Had to have license, renewable annually with local police.
    d) Had to state the purpose of owning such weapon ( a license for an AK 47 or M16would never be approved).
    e) Usually,unless the reason for the license was "hobby" and use at at a licensed gun range, where record are required of ammunition useage, to be suppled to the police, unlikely you would get a license for the gun.
    f) Worst of all to him, the police could turn up at his house at any time and demabd to see the gun and his ammunition stocks.if the gun was not in the safe or excess ammunition bye bye license and no more license ever again!!
    Do nothing to change gun laws in the US and this problem just gets worse not better, and is a Homeland security risk as well and an open invitation to sleeper type terrorists whose only desire is to be a Martyr!!

    April 10, 2009 at 8:54 am |
  3. lampe

    Please stop blaming News Stations for these idiots actions. People who do these type of things,will do them with or without News Stations, or Blog Sites. Just because someone in the News, reports on things you do or do not like, doesn't mean you end up taking a Gun, and shot smeone. We as Americans need to stop blaming everyone else for the actions of a few. If you don't like what certain News Station broadcast, then by all-means stop listening to them.

    April 9, 2009 at 10:32 pm |
  4. c,ca

    Thank you for following up on this story. These types of hate groups scare me out of my wits.

    Since Pres. Obama has been in office there has been an increase in the numbers of these of anti-government, white-supremacist, and nazi organizations. Not to mention the increase in gun sales. I fear for the President's safety, and also for the safety of the average person. We all remember Oklahoma City.

    I also feel very strongly about a certain cable network that has programs that encourage this type of thinking. Of course, they play dumb and say they have no influence over their viewers but I've heard that there was a link to one of these shows on Poplawski's MySpace.

    I'm not advocating censorship, but those TV hosts need to exercise some responsibility. Enough nuts have misinterpreted simple song lyrics – thinking that they were hearing secret messages – Charlie Manson, for example. We certainly don't need some TV host flat out telling people to overthrow the government.

    There is so much simmering anger lately – you just don't know when someone's going to snap. It's scary.

    April 9, 2009 at 8:59 pm |
  5. Kim

    I think that if the police were aware that weapons were in the house they would have been better equiped to anticipate the situation going bad. They may have at least approached with more caution and worn kevlar. Had they know that there was an AK-47, they may have even had S.W.A.T. back up or a sniper. Maybe even a negotiator. There are plenty of preventive steps that could have been taken.

    Obviously, there is no way they could have known before hand of his on-line activities. Even if a special task force was monitoring him, the responding officers wouldn't necessarily have that info.

    April 9, 2009 at 8:06 pm |
  6. Annie Kate

    The police couldn't have known what was waiting for them – lots of people have guns but very few of them turn them on the police or on other people. Its easy to look back and see all the warning spots but until he broke the law what would have been done? He had a constitutional right to have guns; and he has the freedom of his own thoughts and biases no matter how much we deplore them. I'm sure there are other people like him who will never turn their guns on other people – so how do you tell which ones will? It would be nice if we could really tell.

    April 9, 2009 at 7:50 pm |
  7. lampe

    I live in Pa. It was a very sad day for all Pittsburghers. This young man had some serious problems. But, I honestly don't believe it would have made a difference, he was bound and determined to kill Police Officers that day. Now we the tax payers, are probably going to have to pay for him to remain in Prison for the rest of his life.

    April 9, 2009 at 7:45 pm |
  8. bobbo

    It's too bad you didn't come to Pittsburgh and cover this issue from our community. You might have a better understanding. It's easy to write a blog post from wire stories and what you've read online.

    But once you experience it first hand in our big-small town of Pittsburgh, you'll understand.

    To the national media, this is just another bump in the road. But to all of Pittsburgh, this has broken our hearts.

    God Bless Pittsburgh and every police officer in our nation.

    April 9, 2009 at 6:55 pm |