When retired police chief Andreas Probst was killed in a hit-and-run last month, Las Vegas Review-Journal crime reporter Sabrina Schnur was the first journalist to arrive on the scene.
Schnur was also the first local reporter to talk to Probst’s family, penning an obituary to ensure that his widow’s and daughter’s voices would be heard.
But despite her work documenting Probst’s death, Schnur became the target of anti-Semitic attacks and death wishes over the weekend as social media users questioned why the “media” wasn’t properly covering the attack. Screenshots of the month-old obituary’s headline sparked outrage among readers who falsely assumed the Review-Journal was downplaying Probst’s death.
The obituary originally ran on Aug. 18 with the headline “Retired police chief killed in bike crash remembered for laugh, love of coffee.” At that point, police did not yet know that the killing was intentional. Thirteen days later, on Aug. 31, a source approached Schnur with a video showing the driver in the crash intentionally hitting Probst and laughing about it with the passenger. That same day, police announced they had become aware of the video on Aug. 29 and were adding a murder charge ot the case, which, the Review-Journal subsequently covered.
But when that video went viral over the weekend, social media users shared screenshots of the old obituary, taking issue with the phrase “bike crash.” They filled Schnur’s inbox and social media mentions with increasingly personal attacks and accused her of being anti-white. They shared her photo and made anti-Semitic comments. They circulated her office phone number and told her that they hoped she would get cancer, that they hoped she would die. They found her private social media accounts and dug through her Twitter, unearthing posts she’d made as a teenager, going as far back as 2015.
“That’s what started to scare me — if they’re taking the time to go through my Twitter, what else are they taking the time to find on me?” Schnur said. “I started to piece together, OK, if I was going to just cyber stalk someone, what things would they be able to find on me? I started to feel genuinely unsafe at that point.”
On Sunday morning, Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of X, formerly known as Twitter, amplified one of the screenshots, posting “An innocent man was murdered in cold blood while riding his bicycle. The killers joked about it on social media Yet, where is the media outrage? Now you begin to understand the lie.” That post had 68.2 million views as of Monday evening.
A request for comment sent to X generated an automated email response.
The Review-Journal’s social media accounts and other staff also received vicious attacks. When Schnur shared that she’d received 700 notifications on X and an onslaught of angry emails and voicemails, editors jumped in to support her and make sure she was safe.
Executive editor Glenn Cook said that during his 30-plus years in journalism, he’d never seen vitriol of this volume or intensity. “It’s like a fire hose of hatred to the face,” he wrote in a column about the social media outrage.
In an attempt to slow the harassment, editors changed the Aug. 18 obituary’s headline — which Schnur did not write — so that it read “hit-and-run” instead of “bike crash.” The Review-Journal then published a story about the online harassment in an attempt to correct the record. Cook told staff scheduled to work on Sunday not to come into the office as a safety precaution.
“We know firsthand that social media vitriol can turn into something worse,” Cook said. “That’s one of the takeaways from what we dealt with with Jeff German’s murder.”
German was an investigative reporter for the Review-Journal who was found stabbed to death outside his home a year ago. Police later arrested former Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles, who had been the subject of German’s reporting. Before German’s death, Telles had made angry social media posts referencing the journalist and his work.
Sept. 2 marked the one-year anniversary of German’s death, which Cook said is still fresh on his staff’s minds. On social media, users resurfaced posts about the anniversary and mocked his death.
“We watch this a lot more carefully than I think other news organizations might, and we’re sensitive to it,” Cook said. “If someone is trolling (our staff) in an especially nasty way, we want to know about it. We want to know because of what we went through with Jeff. The days of us blowing off social media vitriol as trolls being trolls — those ended for us last year. We’re never going back to that space.”
Cook said that the paper has already contacted the police about one death threat stemming from the weekend barrage of harassment. At Schnur’s request, the paper also went through her email and voicemail so that she wouldn’t have to read or hear the hateful messages.
Sunday “felt like a funeral,” Schnur said. She spent much of the day crying and trying not to take the messages to heart. Then she hosted an endless parade of people bringing her food and offering to sit with her. And then, at the end of the day, she packed up her belongings and moved out of her apartment. She had to leave anyway because her air conditioning was broken, but due to the harassment, she plans on staying away for a few more days. She’s not sure when she’ll feel comfortable going back.
Schnur has also watched the harassment campaign go after the people close to her. On X, Schnur regularly shares her colleagues’ and friends’ work, and their mentions have now been flooded with hateful comments.
She worries for her parents and has urged them to take precautions like avoiding their front yard and not leaving the garage open. She reminded them that German was found lying next to his house, a place he had presumably felt safe.
While on a phone call with her mom Sunday, Schnur overheard her mom telling her dad in a hushed voice that there was someone at the door.
“I could hear the fear in her voice,” Schnur said. “There was no one there, but just for a moment, my heart broke. … Because of work that I did and people potentially trying to find where I live, my mom has to be scared of her front door.”
Schnur’s editors offered to let her take time off, but she was back at work Monday morning at 6 a.m. She had an interview scheduled with the mother of a 24-year-old man who was shot Sept. 10. The mother told Schnur that because her son was a Black man with tattoos, she felt like people were shunning her story and making false assumptions about her son.
The last thing Schnur wanted to do was not call the woman and give her the impression that she also didn’t care: “It’s a story I’m passionate about. No one else was covering it, and I think it matters.”
One of Schnur’s top priorities as a crime reporter is making sure every homicide victim has “a name and a face and a family and a story.” She plans to continue covering Probst’s homicide. The driver suspected of killing him is a minor, and Schnur is the only reporter in the area who regularly covers juvenile court.
“I’ve put in 110% on this case because the family has asked for it, because the family has been brave enough to come forward, because it’s a ruthless case — but also because it’s a case on my beat,” Schnur said. “I’m not going to put my life on hold because I’m upset or, frankly, that I’m scared. I can go somewhere where I’m a little bit less scared and keep up with the stories that I care about.
“I’m not going to stop writing because some people on Twitter are upset.”
Update (Oct. 6, 2023): This story was updated to remove a claim that Sabrina Schnur had given a source with video footage of Andreas Probst’s killing instructions on how to send it to police. The claim, first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, could not be corroborated by Review-Journal editors and was subsequently retracted.