An Edmonton woman who died by suicide weeks after a video of her was posted by the city's Creep Catchers branch has prompted criticism that the vigilante group is preying on the mentally ill.
As first reported by Global News, Katelynn McKnight, 27, was featured in a Creep Catchers video in which the group's leader John Doep confronted her about wanting to meet up with a 14-year-old girl.
In clips of the video, posted to Global's website, McKnight tells Doep, "My phone was stolen" upon being confronted by him. Creep Catchers posted the clip to YouTube on August 17. McKnight killed herself on September 7.
Creep Catchers describe themselves as vigilante child predator hunters, who pose as children or teenagers online and confront adults who express sexual interest in them. Branches have popped up across the country.
A man who identified himself as a father figure to McKnight wrote on Facebook that McKnight had a brilliant but damaged mind and the emotional maturity of a child.
"She had attempted suicide many times before. She wanted out. So I took her in and gave her a home," he said.
"Once the Creep Catchers came walking up to my door her life became a living hell. The constant fear of what could happen to her, the damage to her reputation, the unbearable humiliation of being publicly labeled as a pedophile unable to leave the house for fear of being attacked was just one of the many things that pushed her over the edge."
In an interview with Global, McKnight's mother Cathy Dunn questioned Creep Catchers' vigilantism.
"How can you deal with people and assume that they are guilty, and create such a mental turmoil when you really don't have any proof?" she said.
Reached via Facebook Thursday, Doep (who also goes by O Nigel Woolcox on Facebook) refused to comment, aside from repeatedly saying "lol" and advising VICE to speak to his lawyer. In a Facebook post published Wednesday, Doep attacked Global's story, claiming the video of McKnight was made in April not August.
"To say that we 'target' anyone…..is ludicrous…we ALWAYS allow the potential predator the choice to even initiate the contact. We DO NOT target anyone other than those who prey on children," he wrote. However, a screenshot of an earlier post that appears to be from Doep's account shows him issuing a direct apology to McKnight.
"My actions have been reckless and misdirected. Forgive me as I too am a victim of abuse," he wrote. "You have my word that the video has been taken down and the chat logs deleted."
Doep refused to comment on the apology when questioned by VICE, except to say "I don't like how you approached the question."
A woman named RL Dakin, who says her mentally ill relative was harassed by Creep Catchers, has started a Facebook group that claims Creep Catchers are targeting people who are mentally ill and living with disabilities. McKnight got in touch with her through the group and said she'd spent her life in numerous adoptive homes and on the street, suffering from mental health issues, Dakin told VICE.
According to Dakin, McKnight said she'd been hospitalized in April for a suicide attempt and had only been out of hospital for a few days when she was confronted by Doep.
In an exchange between McKnight and Dakin on August 17, the day the Creep Catchers video was uploaded to YouTube, McKnight said she wanted to kill herself.
"Even if the video gets taken down, the damage is done… There is no recovery for me," she said, adding her death would be "a gesture that will hopefully bring about positive change and result in people to begin to question whether this is the right way to do things."
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