Consumer Attorney Public Relations Group
Social Media Victims Law Center sues Snapchat for its role in facilitating drug sales that resulted in the deaths of 27 individuals
The lawsuit alleges that its design and features such as disappearing messages, “My Eyes Only” and “Snap Map” has created an online safe haven for drug dealers
LOS ANGELES – April 19, 2023 – The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), a legal resource for parents of children and teenage victims harmed by social media addiction and online abuse, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Snap, Inc. on behalf of the families of 27 minors and young adults across 13 states who died after purchasing narcotics from drug dealers connected to them on the Snapchat platform. In all but one instance, the drugs being distributed on Snapchat were counterfeit pills containing lethal amounts of fentanyl.
The suit alleges that Snapchat’s disappearing messages, “My Eyes Only” and “Snap Map” features, among others unique to Snapchat, encourage, enable, and facilitate the existence of a deadly “Snapchat Drug Cartel” that uses the social media platform for illicit sale of illegal drugs, most of which are counterfeit and contain lethal doses of fentanyl.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Superior Court of Los Angeles (Case No. 23SMCV01428), is the sixth wrongful death lawsuit over the last six months against Snapchat on behalf of 62 individuals across 22 states who have died or suffered immeasurable harms because of Snapchat drug dealers and the rampant and open distribution activities taking place on Snapchat.
The lawsuit also alleges that Snapchat has created a safe haven for drug dealers to operate as a “Snapchat Drug Cartel” with a never-ending source of vulnerable customers, purposefully obstructs parental supervision and creates unhealthy social media addictions by design. Additionally, Snapchat enables dealers to locate and access nearby minors and young adults, affirmatively connects them to these young clients and the posting and exchange of drug menus and other information that disappear within 24 hours – erasing all evidence of the crime.
“Snapchat has become engrained as the virtual street corner for drug sales in local communities throughout the country,” said Matthew P. Bergman, founding attorney of the Social Media Victims Law Center. “It’s disappearing messages, “My Eyes Only” and “Snap Map” features have created a virtual ‘Snapchat Drug Cartel’ that is reaching into the homes of millions of minors and young adults across the country. Snapchat needs to be held accountable for its role in helping with the open and illicit sales of drugs, and for protecting drug dealers who are killing our young people.”
SMVLC filed the lawsuits on behalf of the families of: Rey Caballero, Jr., 16, Avondale, Ariz.; Sequoyah Klingele, 16, Half Moon Bay, Calif.; Daniel Adams, 16, Petaluma, Calif.; Brooke Badger, 17, Lake Forest, Calif.; Cedric Halloran, 21, Agoura Hills, Calif.; Arnold Ceballos, 17, Palmdale, Calif.; Michael Cahill, 19, Fresno, Calif.; Angelo Klotz, 15, Pacific Grove, Calif.; Kenneth “K.J.” Woods, Jr., 20, Moreno Valley, Calif.; Marciano Poitra, 16, Erie, Colo.; Tobias “Toby” Johnson-Frey, 18, Arvada, Colo.; Gabriel “Gabe” Ruepke, 21, Chariton, Iowa; Sebastian Kidd, 17, Des Moines, Iowa; Nicholas “Cruz” Burris, 15, Lansing, Kan.; Jayson Ebert, 20, Wamego, Kan.; Zach Parsons, 21, Dover, Mass.; Adam “A.J.” Wiblishouser, Jr., 16, Omaha, Neb.; James Shufelt, 16, Albuquerque, NM; Adrien “A.J.” Rosado,19, Las Vegas, Nev.; Chantel Williams, 19, Las Vegas, Nev.; Christopher “Chris” Knudsen-Spangler, 19, Waxhaw, NC; Kevanna Starr, 20, Shawnee, Okla.; Zachary “Zach” Barnes, 18, Bartlesville, Okla.; Dylan Hart, 17, Fort Worth, Texas; Kierston Torres, 19, Vancouver, Wash.; Tanner Jensen, 19, Lacey, Wash.; and Giancarlo Jigamian, 21, Seattle, Wash.
Rey Caballero, Jr., 16, Avondale, Ariz.
Rey enjoyed playing video games, with his remote-control RC car, hanging out with friends and fishing and hunting with his dad.
Rey was 13 years old when he received his first cell phone and opened his first Snapchat account without his father’s knowledge or permission.
Even when Rey Sr. became aware that his son was using Snapchat, he had no reason to think that it was dangerous. Rey Sr. had rules around phone usage and his ability to check Rey’s phone. He occasionally would go through the device to make sure everything was okay, checking Rey’s emails and/or texts, as well as social media accounts. Whenever he checked or Rey showed him his Snapchat account, it appeared that all the app did was allow kids to send photos.
Little did Rey Sr. know that Snapchat was connecting his son to drug dealers and pointing him to drug related content on the social media app.
In 2020, Rey had planned to go visit his mother who lived in San Diego for a couple of days. Rey Sr. was going to be out of town, so he dropped Rey off at his grandmother’s house for a couple days to wait for his mom to pick him up.
On November 23, 2020, Rey was connected to a Snapchat drug dealer username “phoenix_west19,” who offered to deliver Percocet to his grandmother’s house. Rey took his grandmother’s dog out for a walk met the drug dealer and then came back as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
On November 24, 2020, at around 8 a.m., Rey’s grandmother went to try to wake Rey, who was sleeping on the couch. He was unresponsive and cold to the touch. She immediately called 9-1-1 and waited for the paramedics to arrive. She also called Rey Sr. and he listened in as the first responders tried to resuscitate his son.
Rey had purchased Percocet which was laced with lethal doses of fentanyl. He died of fentanyl poisoning on November 24, 2020 at the age of 16.
Sequoyah Klingele, 16, Half Moon Bay, Calif.
Sequoyah was a kind, funny and outgoing child who made friends everywhere he went. He was also a talented athlete and star ice hockey player and worked part time as a busboy at local restaurant. He was raised by his single father, Kenny, with help from his grandparents, and Aunt Kathy. Sequoyah opened his first Snapchat account when he was 12 years old.
The weekend of April 3, 2021, Kenny took Sequoyah to visit his grandfather in La Honda, Calif. On Monday, April 5, 2021, Sequoyah began purchasing prescription methadone from a Snapchat drug dealer who markets and sells to kids exclusively via the social media platform.
The next day, Sequoyah went missing. His friends and family searched the town for him but had no luck finding Kenny. No one had heard from him all day, so they were extremely concerned for his wellbeing. At approximately 6 p.m., one of Sequoyah’s friends found him at the home of the Snapchat drug dealer. Instead of calling for help that could have saved Sequoyah’s life, the drug dealer removed the drugs and drug paraphernalia from the residence and left without calling paramedics.
Sequoyah died on April 6, 2021. He was only 16 years old.
Daniel Adams, 16, Petaluma, Calif.
Daniel was a good kid who made friends easily. He played baseball and football and enjoyed taking trips to the Russian River.
Daniel got his first cell phone when he was 13 years old and opened a Snapchat account shortly afterwards without his mother Erica’s permission. Daniel quickly became addicted to Snapchat and started to have trouble sleeping and experiencing anxiety.
Daniel turned 16 on Friday, September 3, 2021, just before Labor Day weekend. On the evening of Monday, September 6, 2021 (Labor Day), Daniel brought a friend home to hang out. Daniel told his mom goodnight, and he and his friend went up to his room for the night.
Erica woke up early the next morning and began waking up all of her children. When she went to Daniel’s room there was no response, and when she tried to open the door, it was locked. Daniel’s friend eventually opened the door from the inside, and when she went to check on her son, she realized something was wrong. Daniel was stiff and cold to the touch.
Erica learned later that Daniel had purchased what he believed to be Percocet from a Snapchat drug dealer who delivered the pills to him because he did not have a car. The counterfeit pills turned out to be laced with lethal doses of fentanyl.
Daniel died of fentanyl poisoning on September 7, 2021, four days after his 16th birthday.
After his death, Daniel’s friends saw the dealer continuing to sell drugs on Snapchat.
Brooke Badger, 17, Lake Forest, Calif.
Brooke was a happy child who loved school. She was incredibly creative and talented and developed an interest in pursuing forensic psychology after graduation.
Brooke received her first cell phone when she was 13 years old and began using Snapchat during her freshman year of high school. Shortly after, Snapchat began sending her drug-themed content and connecting her with drug dealers.
On June 17, 2021, Brooke’s boyfriend came over for the night. The next morning, Brooke’s mother, Hanh, was walking to the kitchen for her second cup of coffee and saw Brooke’s boyfriend sitting on the living room couch staring ahead blankly. Seeing him behave so awkwardly, Hanh rushed upstairs to check on her daughter.
When Hanh entered Brooke’s room, she immediately knew something was wrong.
She could tell that Brooke was not breathing because her lips were purple, and she was pale and stiff to the touch.
Hanh called 9-1-1. A sheriff arrived shortly after and instructed Hanh to move aside as he approached and immediately administered Narcan to Brooke, but it was too late.
Brooke’s family later learned – via her Snapchat account – that on June 18, 2021,
Brooke had purchased what she believed to be Roxicet, a.k.a. “Roxy” (a prescription medication that contains Tylenol and oxycodone) from a drug dealer to whom Snapchat connected her with contained lethal amounts of fentanyl and Brooke died of fentanyl poisoning on June 18, 2021.
Cedric Halloran, 21, Agoura Hills, Calif.
Cedric enjoyed hanging out with friends and loved skateboarding. When he was 13 years old, Cedric started using Snapchat without his mother Maureen’s knowledge or consent. When Maureen started to notice he was experiencing anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation, she sought out medical help for him, not realizing that Snapchat was the root of his issues. Eventually, Snapchat connected him with local drug dealers.
On May 10, 2021, Maureen was working from home and took a quick break to check on her son. Cedric’s door was locked, but she assumed he was resting and left him alone. Maureen checked back on Cedric a little later and knocked down the door when he wouldn’t answer, she discovered that Cedric was unresponsive, with his skin had started to change color.
She called 9-1-1 and first responders administered Narcan and CPR. They were unable to save his life. Cedric died after purchasing through Snapchat what he believed to be Xanax, but that contained lethal doses of fentanyl instead. Maureen showed the Snapchat evidence to police and was told there was nothing they can do because the information they needed to find and prosecute the drug dealer was automatically erased by Snapchat.
Arnold Ceballos, 17, Palmdale, Calif.
Arnold was a happy and outgoing child. He loved watching rodeo bull riding and dreamt of riding a bull someday, as well as having a ranch full of different kinds of animals.
He was 12 years old when he received his first cell phone and later opened a Snapchat account without his mother’s permission.
In late October of 2020, Arnold was connected by Snapchat to a Snapchat drug dealer, who Arnold referred to as “Ricardo.” Arnold’s family saw him meeting up with Ricardo outside their home a few times, and when they asked who he was, Arnold told them that he was the boyfriend of a close friend’s sister.
Because Arnold’s birthday was only a few days before Halloween, his mother, Graciela, used to organize a Halloween-themed birthday party for him every year. However, because of COVID, she couldn’t plan a party for his 17th birthday. Instead, she said “yes” when Arnold asked if he could go to a small Halloween party with a friend.
On October 31, 2020, Arnold went to a Halloween party with Ricardo. That evening, Arnold purchased what he believed was a recreational, non-lethal drug from a drug dealer he met on Snapchat but received fatal doses of fentanyl instead.
Early the next morning, Graciela, received a phone call from her sister, telling her to come over to her house immediately because Arnold was not doing well. He had been brought there by his uncle’s co-worker who ran into him that evening at a nearby party.
When Graciela arrived, she saw her son laying on the sidewalk surrounded by paramedics administering CPR. She was not able to touch or get close to him and watched as they pulled a white sheet over her son and pronounced him dead. It was only a few days after his 17th birthday.
Michael Cahill,19, Fresno, Calif.
Michael was an easy-going kid and enjoyed going to work at his father Stephen’s painting business since he was five years old.
He opened his first Snapchat account when he was 10 years old. Snapchat then started introducing him to drug related content, which eventually led him to try marijuana. For years, Michael and his friends purchased marijuana from drug dealers they met through Snapchat.
On April 2, 2022, Stephen’s daughter called him and asked him to check on Michael because he wasn’t answering his phone. Stephen called his son’s name and tried to open his door, but it was locked. He took a stool and looked in through Michael’s window and could see his son was pale and not moving. Stephen climbed through the window and found that his son was cold and stiff to the touch. Michael did not have a pulse and it was clear to Stephen that he was deceased.
Police took screen shots of the Snapchat data found on Michael’s phone and told Stephen they would do what they could to follow up. This data provided them with the Snapchat drug dealer username, but no arrest was ever made.
Angelo Klotz, 15, Pacific Grove, Calif.
Angelo was a sweet and quiet child, who loved his friends and family dearly. He was close with his grandfather, who owned a landscaping company, and he often accompanied his grandfather to check on jobs.
Angelo got his first cell phone when he was young so that his father could reach him directly since his parents were no longer together. He opened his Snapchat account when he was 11 years old without his parents’ permission.
He developed an addiction to Snapchat and started having trouble sleeping, resulting in severe anxiety and depression. Attempts to restrict Angelo’s access to Snapchat prompted extreme reactions. He would “freak out” when his mother tried to restrict his access to his device, making things worse. He would do anything to regain access – including running away so that he could use friends’ devices.
Angelo eventually started to buy drugs from dealers to whom Snapchat connected him.
On Friday, March 4, 2022, his mother, Ashley, enrolled Angelo in an outpatient program with plans for him to start the following Monday. Angelo had told his mom that he was struggling with an addiction to Percocet and Xanax prescription medications.
That same weekend, Angelo purchased what he believed to be Percocet from a Snapchat drug dealer, which instead were laced with lethal doses of fentanyl. Angelo died on Sunday, March 6, 2022 – one day before he was scheduled to start outpatient treatment.
Kenneth “K.J.” Woods, Jr., 20, Moreno Valley, Calif.
K.J. was a great kid who did well in school. He could be shy at times but was always friendly and dreamed of being a lot of things – including a brain surgeon so he could unlock the secrets of telekinesis. He was artistic and talented, and created an entire music album, which he posted on Sound Cloud for the world to enjoy.
K.J. was 15 years old when he bought his first cell phone and soon after, opened his Snapchat account.
Snapchat started connecting drug dealers to K.J. via its public profile settings, user recommendation algorithm, and mapping and location features.
On August 25, 2021, K.J. purchased what he believed Xanax from a Snapchat drug dealer which turned out to be laced with lethal doses of fentanyl.
The next day, his mother found her son unresponsive in her home, deceased from fentanyl poisoning.
Marciano Poitra, 16, Erie, Colo.
Marciano was a happy and outgoing child who loved being a part of a blended family.
He received his first cell phone when he was 13 years old and opened his first Snapchat account just a few months later without his father Mike’s consent.
Marciano began vaping and smoking pot after Snapchat exposed him to drug-themed content, as well as connecting him with several Snapchat drug dealers.
On March 31, 2021, Marciano purchased what he believed to be Percocet from a Snapchat drug dealers, but instead was given pills containing lethal doses of fentanyl.
Later that day, Mike received a call from Marciano’s mother, with whom Marciano was staying. She said that Marciano did not have a heartbeat. Mike told her to call 9-1-1, but she said that they were already there. She gave Mike the name of the hospital where they were taking Marciano. Mike drove to the hospital immediately but arrived too late. Marciano had died from fentanyl poisoning.
Tobias “Toby” Johnson-Frey, 18, Arvada, Colo.
Toby was a kind and easy-going teenager, with aspirations of becoming a musician. Toby started using Snapchat shortly after he received his first phone at 12 years old and continued throughout high school on an iPad and Chromebook. Toby’s use of Snapchat started to become an obsession, eventually leading to suicidal thoughts, sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression and angry outbursts.
Snapchat began recommending and connecting local Snapchat drug dealers to Toby through its map and location features, direct messaging and drug menu delivery.
In August of 2020, Snapchat connected Toby with a local drug dealer. He purchased four Percocet from the Snapchat drug dealer, which were laced with lethal doses of Fentanyl instead.
After taking two of what he thought were prescription pills, Toby was found dead in his bedroom of fentanyl poisoning on November 13, 2020.
Gabriel “Gabe” Ruepke, 21, Chariton, IA.
Gabe loved playing video games, wrestling, and spending time with friends and family. He received his first cell phone when he was 12 years old and opened his Snapchat account without his parents’ knowledge.
Gabe became addicted to Snapchat and eventually suffered from sleep deprivation and anxiety. When his mother Rachel tried to limit his access to Snapchat, he became angry and frustrated.
On May 11, 2018, Gabe’s best friend died in a car accident. Every year, on the anniversary of his friend’s death, Gabe would stay home from work and focus on just making it through the day and his ongoing sadness over the loss.
On May 11, 2021, Gabe saw that a drug dealer to whom Snapchat had connected him years earlier posted a drug menu on Snapchat offering Percocet. Gabe had no experience with fentanyl and was unaware of the risk of purchasing prescription drugs on Snapchat. He did not know that Snapchat drug dealers were selling deadly, counterfeit prescription drugs. Gabe died after taking one of the counterfeit Percocet pills which turned out to be fentanyl.
Police took Gabe’s phone to investigate and attempted to subpoena Snap in order to obtain the proof they needed to arrest the dealer – if not for murder, then at least for the illegal sale of narcotics. Snap objected and refused to provide the requested data, allowing the drug dealer to continue to connect with unsuspecting customers and distribute drugs on Snapchat.
Sebastian Kidd, 17, Des Moines, Iowa
Sebastian was a loving young man who always put others needs before his own. He was a multisport athlete who played soccer, football, wrestling, track and golf.
He got his first phone, a flip phone that could not connect to the internet, when he was 11 years old. Sebastian’s school was asking students to bring a smartphone as part of a class curriculum, so his parents got him one. His father, Deric, is not certain when his son started to use Snapchat, but a little while after, Sebastian began vaping and tried smoking pot after being introduced to drug-related content on the social media app.
In the summer of 2021, Sebastian was getting ready to start his senior year of high school. He was struggling with anxiety and depression and had started to suffer from headaches serious enough to be prescribed medication to help control them. Sebastian began suffering from severe mental health harms, including, but not limited to, social media compulsion, sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression.
On Thursday July 29, 2021, after working on a construction site for his parents’ tree company, he went home and packed for a trip to Arizona. The next morning, Deric found his son’s lifeless body in his room. Shortly before his death, Sebastian purchased what he believed to be a Percocet from a drug dealer to whom Snapchat connected him. The counterfeit Percocet pill turned out to be fentanyl, pressed to look like a Percocet.
Sebastian’s friends provided his parents with the name of the Snapchat drug dealer, which was shared with the police. The police said that they would investigate the crime, but to the best of his parents’ knowledge, the drug dealer who sold Sebastian the counterfeit pills has yet to be arrested.
Nicholas “Cruz” Burris, 15, Lansing, Kan.
Cruz had a passion for the Beatles, loved playing guitar, piano and writing music. He enjoyed family vacations and especially loved hanging out with his friends.
He received his first cell phone when he was 12 and opened his Snapchat account without his parents, Rhonda and Andy’s, consent. Soon afterwards, Snapchat began sending unsolicited drug-themed content to Cruz and connecting him with online drug dealers.
Cruz was too young to drive, so late in the evening of January 17, 2023, a Snapchat drug dealer drove to his home and delivered what Cruz believed was Percocet but was actually a counterfeit Fentanyl pill. He took the counterfeit pill while video chatting with some of his friends who saw him pass out but thought he was “tweaking off a perc.”
The next morning when Rhonda went to wake her son for school, she found him dead.
Police know who the drug dealer is and continue to investigate his crime. The drug dealer closed his Snapchat account after learning of Cruz’s death but opened and continues to operate a new account under a different username.
Jayson Ebert, 20, Wamego, Kan.
Jayson was an athletic and outgoing person. He and his twin brother loved playing basketball, baseball and football, and planned to take over their father’s construction company.
In sixth grade, Jayson and his brother received their first phone, which they shared. By high school, Jayson began using Snapchat without his parents’ consent. In time, Jayson developed insomnia, anxiety, and depression from his addiction to Snapchat.
Jayson suffered a painful shoulder injury in high school and purchased oxycodone from a drug dealer to whom Snapchat connected him to address the pain.
On September 5, 2021, Jayson’s mother Jenni, was contacted by the local sheriff requesting her to come to Jayson’s home. When she arrived, the paramedics were on scene unsuccessfully trying to resuscitate her son. Jayson died taking the oxycodone distributed on Snapchat, which was laced with a lethal amount of fentanyl.
A year after Jayson’s death, law enforcement was able to locate and arrest the Snapchat drug dealer. In return, the Snapchat drug dealer gave a confession to the police, detailing the full events of what transpired.
Zach Parsons, 21, Dover, Mass.
Zach was a sweet, outgoing, and happy child. As he grew older, he loved being the center of attention, in the best possible way, and could keep a room bright and filled with laughter.
His passions consisted of intense workouts, selfless smiles, and indulging in any and everything in sight. He lit up every room he entered and was loved by all who knew him.
Zach was 11 years old when he received his first cell phone and shortly afterwards, opened his Snapchat account without his mother Andrea’s knowledge or permission.
Snapchat began targeting Zach with drug-related content and connected him to local Snapchat drug dealers. By high school, Zach was using Xanax distributed by the drug dealers to whom Snapchat connected him. His parents sent him to various in-patient treatment centers to help and at the start of 2019 he seemed to be doing better.
In March of 2019, however, he was in a car accident (as a passenger) and began suffering from recurring headaches. In April of that year, he purchased counterfeit Percocet from a drug dealer to whom Snapchat connected him, which turned out to be pure fentanyl.
Early the morning of April 9, 2019, Andrea and her fiancé Bobby woke up and heard the shower running, which did not make sense. They hurried to the bathroom and could hear the Dave Matthews Band playing in the background. Andrea pounded on the door, but there was no response. Bobby kicked in the door, and they found Zach on the bathroom floor.
Zach’s skin was blue and there was blood everywhere. It looked as though he had hit his head. Andrea was frantic, and kept thinking that perhaps they could resuscitate him, even though it was clear that it was far too late.
The police found a “Percocet” in a tin in Zach’s room. It was a pill pressed to look like Percocet, but as testing later showed, it was pure fentanyl. Zach’s blood work confirmed that he had enough fentanyl in his system to kill several grown men.
Adam “A.J.” Wiblishouser, Jr., 16, Omaha, Neb.
A.J. was a friendly and outgoing child who excelled in school and joined the Job Corps. He wanted to be an electrician and had his path planned out to achieve that goal.
When A.J. was 14, he asked his father, Adam, if he could open a Snapchat account. Not understanding the dangers that Snapchat could pose to minors, Adam allowed him to open the account. Almost immediately after A.J. started using Snapchat he was directed to drug advertisements and connected with Snapchat drug dealers by Snapchat itself. Adam eventually caught A.J. with marijuana, and once he learned that Snapchat was his supply source, he made A.J. delete the app.
When A.J. turned 16, he used cash to buy a “burner” phone, which he used to secretly regain access to Snapchat. In November 2022, A.J. purchased from a Snapchat drug dealer what he believed to be pure Percocet but was instead tainted with lethal doses of fentanyl.
Adam returned from his night shift the next morning, said “hello” to his son, told him he loved him and went to bed. Around 3:30 p.m., Adam woke up and checked on his son. He found A.J. unresponsive in the basement common room. Adam called 9-1-1. When paramedics arrived, they attempted to counteract the fentanyl, but were unsuccessful.
A.J. died of fentanyl poisoning on November 11, 2022.
James Shufelt, 16, Albuquerque, N.M.
James was a gifted and intelligent child who loved hunting, fishing and spending time with his family.
His mother, Ivy, bought him his first cell phone at an early age so that she could stay in contact with him. She believes her son began using Snapchat when he was 14 years old, without her consent. Almost immediately, Snapchat began directing and recommending drug advertisements to James and connecting him with Snapchat drug dealers.
On March 14, 2022, James purchased what he believed to be Xanax from a Snapchat drug dealer who delivered the pills to his house.
James was living with his aunt at the time but spoke or texted with his mom daily. On the evening of March 14, 2022, he did not text Ivy goodnight as he always did.
On the afternoon of March 15, 2022, Ivy received a phone call from her sister telling her that James was dead, discovered by James’ 11-year-old younger brother. James had died of fentanyl poisoning from the drugs being distributed on Snapchat.
Law enforcement closed the case quickly without making an arrest because there was no way to identify the dealer who sold James the counterfeit pills due to Snapchat’s disappearing messages feature.
Adrien “A.J.” Rosado,19, Las Vegas, Nev.
A.J. was a happy and outgoing child who loved the outdoors, riding his bike around the neighborhood and playing baseball.
His mother, Melessa, gave him his first cell phone when he was 13 years old. A.J. opened his Snapchat account while he was underage and without mother’s knowledge or consent.
In the summer of 2020, Melessa learned that A.J. was purchasing Xanax from Snapchat. On one occasion she grabbed his phone while Snapchat was open and saw that his feed was filled with people trying to sell drugs – things like pictures of pills with the caption “who needs bars” and Snapchat drug menus.
Melessa did everything she could to get help for her son, but by January of 2021, he was hooked on the prescription pills supplied to him by Snapchat drug dealers.
In April of 2021, after he returned from a recovery program, A.J. walked to his aunt’s house and took a counterfeit prescription pill he had purchased from a drug dealer he met on Snapchat. The pill turned out to be laced with deadly amounts of fentanyl. A.J. died on May 2, 2021.
Police investigated A.J.’s case; however, they declared that it was a difficult investigation due to the loss of data, delays on Snapchat part to quickly provide the information requested, and the social media company’s overall unwillingness to cooperate with the police.
Chantel Williams, 19, Las Vegas, Nev.
Chantel was funny and outgoing, with a larger-than-life laugh who loved singing in the school choir. Her mother, Kathryn, sometimes affectionally called her “flea” because she was always attached to her hip and never wanted to be apart.
Chantel received her first cell phone when she was 14 years old so that her mother, a nurse assistant and single parent, could stay in touch with her daughter.
Struggling with the inability to sleep and resulting anxiety, Chantel began self-medicating with Xanax. Her mother found out that she was self-medicating (though did not learn until after Chantel died that she was purchasing Xanax through the Snapchat app) and made it clear that drugs would not be allowed in her home. In January of 2020, Chantel moved out in the hopes of having more freedom.
On April 24, 2020, Chantel purchased Xanax from a drug dealer she is believed to have met through Snapchat, which turned out to be laced with lethal doses of fentanyl. Chantel died that same day from fentanyl poisoning.
Kathryn searched Chantel’s phone and found the name of the Snapchat drug dealer. She provided this information to the Las Vegas police, but ultimately, no one followed up or pursued the matter.
Christopher “Chris” Knudsen-Spangler, 19, Waxhaw, N.C.
Chris was a shy teenager, who enjoyed playing video games and interacting with other online players. With his mother Diane’s permission, Chris created a Snapchat account and began using the social media platform when he was 16 years old. During this time, Diane thought Snapchat was designed for teenagers and children, and was considered harmless.
However, the more that Chris used Snapchat, the more he experienced a decline in his mental health, including depression, anxiety and drug use. One day, Chris purchased what he thought was Xanax from a drug dealer to whom Snapchat connected him.
On the evening of September 10, 2021, Chris said he was going to bed, took the family dog, and headed up the stairs. Diane didn’t think anything of it as this was his normal routine. Chris liked to go to bed early and wake up early. Diane said goodnight, then she and her daughter went out shopping for a couple hours and headed home.
The next morning, Chris’ alarm went off at 3:30 a.m., like it usually does. Only he did not turn it off, which also sometimes happens. Diane got out of bed, walked past his bedroom, and knocked on the door to wake him, then headed to the kitchen for some coffee. As she passed his room on the way up, his alarm was still going, so Diane opened his door and saw that he appeared to still be asleep.
When Diane turned on the light, she saw that her son was pale. There was a small amount of vomit on the left side of his chin, and when she touched him, he was stiff and cold. She knew immediately that he was no longer alive.
Chris died in his sleep after consuming the Xanax pill which was laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl.
Kevanna Starr, 20, Shawnee, Okla.
Kevanna was a social butterfly who had a passion for listening to music. She valued spending time with her family and friends and worked as a Slot Tech at the local casino.
She was just 14 years old when she opened her Snapchat account without her parents’ consent. After a while, Snapchat began to direct Kevanna to drug-themed content and connect her with drug dealers.
On December 30, 2022, Kevanna was working at the casino and communicated with a Snapchat drug dealer who offered to deliver Xanax to her place of work. She purchased what she believed to be Xanax but were instead pills laced with lethal doses of fentanyl.
After returning home from shopping with her sister and her sister’s goddaughter, Kevanna told her family that she was tired and going to take a short nap. Her sister’s goddaughter found Kevanna and told her sister that something was wrong, and that Kevanna was “laying funny.” It looked as though Kevanna had sat down on her bed, with one leg crossed under her body and the other on the floor, then simply fell over, face first, onto the bed. She was non-responsive and foaming around the mouth.
The first responders tried administering Narcan, but it was too late. Kevanna died from pills distributed on Snapchat and laced with fentanyl.
Zachary “Zach” Barnes, 18, Bartlesville, Okla.
Zach was an outgoing child who loved skateboarding, four-wheeling, basketball, fishing and spending time with his family.
When he was 14 years old, Zach received his first cell phone, and soon afterwards, opened a Snapchat account without his mother Amber’s consent.
Zach developed a compulsion to engage with Snapchat at all hours and began having trouble sleeping at night as a result. He was tired all the time and began suffering from anxiety and depression. Amber sought medical help; however, Zach ultimately struggled with these Snapchat-caused harms until the time of his death.
Zach began vaping and tried smoking pot after his Snapchat use began because of the content, connections and recommendations the social media app pushed to his account.
On January 22, 2021, his mother Amber drove him to work. He planned to spend the night with a friend, so she didn’t need her to pick him up. While at work, Zach purchased what he believed were two Percocet pills from a Snapchat drug dealer who delivered them to his workplace. The counterfeit Percocet pills were pure fentanyl.
Zach died of fentanyl poisoning on January 23, 2021.
Dylan Hart, 17, Fort Worth, Texas
Dylan was athletic and enjoyed hanging out with friends. He planned to leave for Job Corps in March 2020, but then COVID started and put his plans on hold.
His mother, Amberly, believes her son opened his first Snapchat account when he was 15 years old and did so without her knowledge or consent.
Amberly had no idea that Snapchat was connecting Dylan to drug dealers.
On the morning of April 24, 2020, Amberly was working in her office at home. She runs a construction company and Dylan was doing some work for the company. A co-worker arrived at the house to pick up Dylan for work, and Amberly told him to check Dylan’s room. A few moments later she heard shouting. She ran upstairs to find her son lifeless in his bedroom. The co-worker called 9-1-1, but it was too late and there was nothing the paramedics could do. Dylan had died of a fentanyl overdose.
What Amberly learned later was that Dylan had connected with a Snapchat drug dealer, and on April 20, 2020, purchased what he believed to be a Percocet, but instead turned out to be laced with lethal doses of fentanyl. The police took Dylan’s phone but ultimately did nothing about the Snapchat drug dealer that had sold the counterfeit pills to the teen.
Kierston Torres, 19, Vancouver, Wash.
Kierston was an intelligent and outgoing child who planned to become a marine biologist. She opened her Snapchat account when she was in sixth grade without her mother Stephani’s consent.
On July 10, 2021, Kierston and her friend purchased what they believed to be four Percocet from a drug dealer connected to them by Snapchat. They returned to the friend’s house, and each girl took one pill, then a second pill about an hour later. One of the pills Kierston took turned out to contain a lethal dose of fentanyl.
Police investigated her death and requested time-sensitive information from Snap. A month later, Snap finally responded to the request, but it was incomplete because information critical to the investigation was erased after 24 hours by the product’s design.
Tanner Jensen, 19, Lacey, Wash.
Tanner was young man who loved life and had a smile that could change anyone’s day. He loved sports, especially basketball and lacrosse, and received several offers to play NCAA lacrosse. Tanner always led with his heart and had big dreams of being a service provider through the military or fire department.
He received his first cell phone when he was 12 years old and opened his first of many Snapchat accounts without his parents’, Taj and Selene, knowledge or consent.
Tanner struggled throughout high school with mental health harms and drug use brought on through his use and addiction to Snapchat. He was also exposed and addicted to fentanyl while still a minor, through counterfeit prescription pills purchased from connections fostered and facilitated by Snapchat.
In August of 2022, Tanner was in a rehabilitation facility in Kirkland, Wash., but checked himself out of rehab and met with a Snapchat drug dealer in Seattle. He called his father at 7:51 a.m. on Saturday, August 27, 2022, and was dead two hours later.
Tanner died of fentanyl poisoning on August 27, 2022.
Giancarlo Jigamian, 21, Seattle, Wash.
Giancarlo was an outgoing and bright young man who enjoyed music, sports, cooking with his mother, Milli, and watching cooking shows on TV.
He received his first cell phone when he was 12 years old and opened his first Snapchat account without his parents’ permission. Giancarlo, who had trouble sleeping at night because of his addiction to Snapchat, began experiencing self-esteem issues, depression and severe anxiety.
In February of 2020, Giancarlo was living at a half-way house with plans to return home in 30 days. On February 9, 2020, he and his father, Harry, had lunch together, and Harry bought him some new clothes for a new job. Giancarlo was excited about the job, and about his future. Harry dropped him off at the half-way home that afternoon and had no reason to think that this would be the last time he would see his son alive.
The next morning police contacted Milli and told her that her son had died.
Giancarlo had purchased what he believed to be Percocet or Xanax from a Snapchat dealer, which turned out instead to be laced with lethal doses of fentanyl.
About the Social Media Victims Law Center
The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), socialmediavictims.org, was founded in 2021 to hold social media companies legally accountable for the harm they inflict on vulnerable users. SMVLC seeks to apply principles of product liability to force social media companies to elevate consumer safety to the forefront of its economic analysis and design safer platforms to protect users from foreseeable harm.
About Matthew P. Bergman
Matthew P. Bergman is an attorney, law professor, philanthropist and community activist who has recovered over $1 billion on behalf of his clients. He is the founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center and Bergman Draper Oslund Udo law firm; a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School; and serves on the board of directors of nonprofit institutions in higher education, national security, civil rights, worker protection and the artsh
If your child or young family member has suffered from serious depression, chronic eating disorder, hospitalization, sexual exploitation, self-harm, or suicide as a result of their social media use, speak to us today for a no-cost legal consultation.