It’s a conversation that more than a decade later remains as “clear as day” to retired RCMP Const. Andrea Schadeck.
“I never forgot Amanda, but you put it somewhere else. You put it in the back of your mind. And I didn’t realize I was carrying it until I testified about a month ago. Then I felt it,” Schadeck told Global News in an interview. “I felt very protective of her, but I was powerless to protect her.”
Schadeck is one of just a handful of officers to work the Amanda Todd harassment and extortion case who actually met the teen before she took her life in 2012.
On Saturday, nearly a decade later, a B.C. jury found Dutch citizen Aydin Coban guilty on five charges over what prosecutors called a “persistent campaign of sextortion” against the teen before her death.
Schadeck met Todd in Nov. 2011 as the teen was in the midst of a fourth wave of active harassment.
Working as a new transfer to the Coquitlam RCMP’s sex crimes unit, she accompanied a colleague to Todd’s father’s house to talk to her about internet safety and to try to convince her to get off Facebook, where much of the harassment was happening.
The talk didn’t go well initially. The then-14 year-old appeared “defiant and disrespectful,” she said. Things grew heated and Todd stormed off to her room where she slammed the door.
After giving the teen a few minutes to calm down, Schadeck knocked on Todd’s door and was allowed inside, where she sat with the girl on the bed.
“I found a totally different child in that room,” she said.
“I just started talking to her and I explained to her why we wanted her to get off the internet and how hard it is to do when it’s so popular,” she added.
“I asked her ‘Why, why do you keep creating all these profiles and why do you keep adding people that you don’t know in real life?’ And she just said, ‘I’m lonely.'”
The conversation was powerful enough that Schadeck gave the teen her personal phone number, something she never did at any other point in her policing career.
Less than a year after Schadeck met Todd, the teen took her life. Before she died, she posted a YouTube video that went viral, describing her torment at the hands of an online extortionist that would become a rallying cry in a movement for online child safety.
At the time of the meeting, Mounties had been investigating the case for close to a year. But, Schadeck said, the RCMP appeared poorly equipped to do anything about the harassment.
“The issue wasn’t evidence. The issue was not knowing who was doing it,” she said.
RCMP protocol, Schadeck said, was to refer cases such as this one to the B.C. Integrated Child Exploitation or tech crime units, which had already been done.
“They came back with, ‘He is very good at what he does, he has masked his IP address, and there is no way to figure out who is doing this. He could be here in Coquitlam. He could be on the other side of the planet,'” she said.
Local investigators instead were advised to talk with Todd and her family about internet safety, she said. Her direct supervisors told her that if there was nothing the specialized units could do the local detachment couldn’t do much else, she added.
“I fully trusted that they had the technology and the training to handle something like this. It was probably that was the first time in my career I felt disillusioned with my job. I guess I was I was shocked and upset,” she said.
Schadeck said she did not hold a high enough rank to know why the training or technology wasn’t there to track down Coban at the time. Those tools, she added, may have improved in the decade since. But she said she still feels the system failed the teen’s family.
“The responsibility was put back on to the Todd family,” she said.
In a statement, RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Chris Manseau said “B.C. ICE worked extensively with Coquitlam RCMP on Amanda’s case before she died.” Global News is awaiting further details from the Mounties.
In the end, Schadeck believes it was Todd herself who was responsible for the series of events that led up to Coban’s eventual arrest.
“Had she just committed suicide and not made that video, she probably would have just faded into the background and Coban might have gotten away with it,” she said. “So I think she’s a hero. I think she was brave enough to do something with her death that all the adults around her weren’t able to do.”
With the “whole world watching,” Schadeck said, the video “kicked everybody into gear” and the investigation ramped back up.
It would still be more than a year before Dutch police arrested Coban at a holiday home in the Netherlands in January, 2014.
A Dutch court would go on to convict him in 2018 of numerous crimes, including extortion, against 33 people from several countries. A publication ban prevented Canadian media from reporting on details of that case while Coban faced trial in B.C.
Just a little girl
A decade later, and now a mother of two, Schadeck said the impact of Amanda Todd’s story hits her even harder.
At Coban’s trial, the court heard extensive details about Todd’s online activities.
Those ranged from the benign, such as how she posted singing videos and wanted to be the next Justin Bieber, to the dangerous, like how she’d once flashed her chest to an online chatroom, and how someone recorded the clip, which later became fodder for her harassment.
The jury heard testimony from family and RCMP about how Todd appeared uncooperative with police, resisted logging off the internet and was hesitant to delete some of her more than 1,000 Facebook friends.
Todd was just 12 when her harassment started, and 15 when she died. Schadeck said people need to be able to put themselves in her shoes.
“I think it’s important for people to remember how we feel about our parents and figures of authority when we’re teenagers, but what I would like people to also know is she was sweet, she was respectful as well as disrespectful,” she said.
“And most of all, I want them to remember she was just a little girl. She was not responsible for what happened to her,” she added through tears.
Todd’s case highlights how in the internet age, it is “ridiculous” to try and force teens to simply stay off social media, where much of their interactions with peers now happens, she said.
Instead, she said, parents need to be involved enough to know about their online lives, what apps they are using, and most importantly, to have open and frank conversations with them.
“You have to remember being a teenager: none of us liked to be told what to do and we all thought our parents were dumb. We just have to remember the way a teenager thinks and we have to speak to them openly, honestly and at their level,” she said.
“And hopefully, if you love your kids hard enough, they’ll know they’ll know not to get involved in these things.”
— With files from Rumina Daya