British Columbia·CBC Investigates

Snapchat drug dealer's family frantic he will get shot

Every Surrey shooting leaves 15-year-old’s family fearing the 'Snapchat' drug dealer has been killed or has fired a gun.

‘[My parents] feel if they kick him out of the house he’s going to turn worse’

Every time there is a shooting in Surrey the family of a 15-year-old frantically check news reports — to see if the teen-turned "Snapchat" drug dealer has been killed or has pulled the trigger.

There have been more than 33 gunfire incidents, including one fatality, in the city of Surrey this year — at least eight directly tied to a dispute between two groups of low-level dealers, said the RCMP.

I think he could use a gun ... it's really heart-breaking."- Bobby, older brother of a 15-year-old dealer.

On April 8, police announced a crackdown targeting groups of "surprisingly" young men aged 14-21.

Gary is one of them. The CBC can't reveal his real name because Gary is a minor and not charged with any crime.

His older brother Bobby (also a pseudonym) agreed to provide a rare inside look at who is fuelling the on-going gun violence in Surrey.

"I think he could use a gun," said Bobby. "It's really heartbreaking."

Surrey has seen 33 shootings since the beginning of 2016. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The 15-year-old started going off the rails in the past year, according to his brother.

"The first major sign of trouble was when we found a cell phone and drugs in his room," said Bobby.

"When he started coming home wearing things that my parents didn't buy for him, especially designer things, that's when there was a real red flag," he added.

Bobby said Gary began using drugs — like codeine, Xanax and cocaine — at the age of 14.

From user to dealer

The teen graduated from using to dealing drugs, lured by money and a guaranteed supply, into becoming a delivery boy, his brother said.

Gary is from a South Asian family, but Bobby said drug dealers are not clustered into ethnic groups.

"It's a very diverse group — Africans, Middle eastern, Asian, Indians, Caucasians — all races," said Bobby.

The RCMP have called it "disorganized crime," as opposed to organized crime.

Gary's family now lives in fear the teen will die in street rivalries between the drug groups — or kill someone else.

Bobby said his little brother was once a promising athlete and student, and his family had high hopes for his future.

An unidentified man is loaded into an ambulance after Surrey's 31st shooting of 2016. (Shane MacKichan)

Instead, the teen began to obsessively watch the 1983 movie "Scarface", which depicts the violent rise to power of a fictional Cuban immigrant in Miami who becomes obscenely wealthy through the drug trade.

Images from the movie show up on the Facebook pages of associates of known Surrey dial-a-dope dealers. Social media also plays a role in drug delivery, with dealers using Snapchat — a popular mobile phone app that allows users to send messages that self-destruct seconds after being read, sources told CBC.

Living in Fear

Bobby said his family wants Gary to remain in their home, for fear he will simply move in with his dial-a-dope associates.

"They feel if they kick him out of the house ... he's going to turn worse," said Bobby.

They also fear Gary.

"He's very cold ... The child starts using threats. So it passes the point where parents can actually be strict."

Police urge families to come forward

RCMP Asst. Commissioner Dan Malo — the Lower Mainland commander of the force — urges families of young dial-a-dope dealers to call police.

"They can't be living in fear … These young men become the alphas in their families," said Malo.

He said parents should call police before there is a crime so officers can connect them with support services that can help.

"We can divert those families into arms that are just waiting for them, " said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Dan Malo. (Cliff Shim/CBC)

The veteran RCMP officer says he feels for the families suffering stress and fear.

"It just pulls at your heart-strings if you are a police officer," said Malo.

"We can divert those families into arms that are just waiting for them."

Spoiled growing up

Bobby said he has tried — and failed — to pull his brother out of trouble.

He believes the teenager was spoiled as a youngster, because his hardworking parents could finally provide a comfortable life as Gary grew up.

Bobby believes his brother has little sense of the value of money, the effort it takes to earn it, and an expectation of instant gratification — nurtured by something as simple as getting every video game he ever wanted as a child.

Families need help

But Bobby said it is not fair to simply blame families.

Social workers who were called, never followed through if Gary missed an appointment, he said.

Surrey has had 33 gunfire incidents in 2016. (Cliff Shim/CBC)

His parents see no options to help their son, other than send him to an expensive military school they can't afford.

Last hope

"It leaves parents with no hope," said Bobby.

He's now considering turning his little brother into police.

He wonders if time behind bars would help the teen turn his life around.

"He will learn to appreciate the food he gets, the area he's sleeping in, his bed, his family. Everything he has. Everything God has blessed him with."

Otherwise, Bobby has a blunt warning for his little brother.

"Some mistakes you make, they could be deadly."

Tracking the Surrey shootings

Click on the interactive map to see where and when the shootings took place


Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.