“I just kept telling them, 'I don't know what's going on.'”
Drew Butler didn't get a lot of sleep last night. The 24-year-old had been playing video games yesterday at his Clayton Park apartment while Halifax Police were frantically trying to arrest him. Someone had anonymously sent in a tip to the cops that Butler was planning to go on a shooting spree at Mic Mac Mall.
“They pretty much came to my house with a SWAT team and took me out,” Butler said during a phone call last night after he was released without charge. “They were inside my apartment with machine guns and shit. They were going to break my door down if I didn't come out.”
He, his sister and his sister's boyfriend were arrested yesterday afternoon and let go a few hours later after questioning.
“The two men and one woman were cooperative with police and investigators do not believe at this time that they were involved in this matter,” last night's police report reads. “As a result, they were released without charge. There is no information to suggest continued threats to Mic Mac Mall.”
The Coast recently profiled Drew Butler's stark experiences in and out of the prison system for our investigation into solitary confinement. He's spent most of the last six years inside federal and provincial jails after a string of car thefts as a teenager. He also faced weapon charges in the past for having a gun. Since the end of his sentence in December, he's been trying to find steady work and turn his life around. Just for the record, he says he had absolutely no plans yesterday to head to a mall and shoot anyone.
The news that there was another threat against another mall mobilized a hefty police and media presence yesterday. Butler only became aware of anything strange happening once people he knew started freaking out and sending him messages to phone the cops. I was one of those people.
Early Monday afternoon I received a call from a sergeant with Halifax Regional Police attempting to get in touch with Drew Butler. Because The Coast had written about him, the sergeant thought I might be able to give them Butler's address or phone number. I asked if he was in trouble, but was only informed the matter was “urgent.” I promised to pass the sergeant's name and number along to Butler and messaged him immediately after getting off the phone.
A couple hours later, the cops were at his door. The apartment he shares with his sister was raided as police searched for a 9mm handgun and ammunition he supposedly possessed.
“You should see it,” Butler said of the resulting mess. “I'm going to clean up later, but I'm just trying to get my head around what happened.”
After a few hours of questioning downtown—during which he repeatedly told police he had no idea what they were talking about—Butler was escorted outside for a smoke break. All of a sudden, he was being offered a drive home. He says no one told him that he wasn't being charged. “Just, 'See you later.'”
“I'm trying to figure out what I did,” he said. “I must have pissed somebody off if they're calling Crime Stoppers saying I'm going to go into a mall and kill anybody.”
An online tip had come in to Crime Stoppers Tuesday morning that an “Andrew” had a gun and was going to shoot random people at Mic Mac Mall. Drew, it should be pointed out, is Butler's legal first name. It's not short for Andrew.
He knows all the details of the anonymous police tip because during the raid the cops accidentally left behind the documents. “We found them on the floor.”
I spoke with Butler around 10:30 last night when I got home. He read some of the details of the Crime Stoppers tip, which included photos of him seemingly pulled from his Facebook. We both found it strange the police would leave that information behind. Near the end of our call, there was a knock at his door. Two plainclothes officers had come back for the misplaced paperwork.
Unbeknownst to the police, Butler kept me on the line. I was recording the call anyway, to make notes for later. You can hear the exchange between Butler and the police below.
“That was left with the warrant?” one officer asked. “It's Crime Stoppers. It's supposed to be anonymous.”
“It's not really anonymous if you leave it around,” Butler countered.
The officers also took some time on their way out to chat about the video game Butler had been playing. One was skilled in Call of Duty's “Zombie Mode.”
“He can probably beat you in it,” the officer's partner boasted.
Understandably, it's been a stressful night for Butler. He was fearful he was headed back to prison even though he knew he'd committed no crime.
“I'm just kind of pissed off,” Butler said. “My house is destroyed, all my sister's shit is destroyed. They fucked everything up. What happened? I don't even know what to do.”
Ironically, Butler had been invited to speak last night at a public panel criticizing Canada's prison system. It was an opportunity to share some of his personal experiences that he's sad to have missed.
"I was so excited to go to that, too,” he said. “Me and my sister sat up all night and did cue cards about what I was going to say.”
Instead, he was once again (temporarily) locked up. These false threats of spree killings at a mall—of terrorism—hang over him. The only person terrified after Tuesday is Drew Butler.
“Just when I thought my life couldn’t get any worse, you know?”