Giancarlo Baldini’s drug of choice was heroin.
Jeffrey Walker was addicted to prescription pills.
Baldini lived in the Napa Valley and Walker in suburban Los Angeles.
The men about a decade apart in age, never met and have little in common.
Except one thing: both had drug addictions that led them to Craigslist to buy the illegal drugs they needed to feed their addictions.
"I think parents should know the (online drug) terms so that when they look at their kids’ phones (they know) ‘plug’ means a drug dealer. I didn't know that. Clear sealant on Craigslist means meth,’’ said Amanda Kruger, Baldini’s mother.
Baldini was born in 1999 but he was a “nature-loving little hippy,’’ his mother said.
"(He) was always like the sweetest kid, the easiest kid,’’ his mother said. “He never misbehaved when he was little. He was always so agreeable, fun to be around. He cared for people so much."
Growing up, he teen loved to surf, play guitar and hang out with his younger brother. He seemed like a well-adapted, happy suburban teenager.
But his mother didn’t know then that her teen son had a dark secret until her husband found illegal drug paraphernalia in his bedroom. She asked her son where he was getting the drugs.
“He told me he was getting (drugs) by answering ads placed on Craigslist,’’ she said. "I started looking and sure enough they were all over the place.”
Kruger said she found code words such as “gun powder” for a powerful type of heroin and an eight ball emoji to reference 3 ½ grams of cocaine on the online ads.
“You could just email them... They didn't ask for an age or anything. They don't care. And so he could just meet people right down the street before he even had a car. He was meeting people at 17 years old,’’ his mother said.
Her son went to drug treatment at Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services in Petaluma and then moved into a sober living house. He got clean and stayed off drugs for almost a year.
"I got the best year I ever had with him because I kind of got a glimpse of the adult he was becoming," his mother said.
During the course of his treatment, he met a woman and the two later rented a Petaluma apartment together.
But one night when his mother called him on his cell phone she said the call went straight to voicemail.
“And I just had this, I can feel it now, this just weird like sinking feeling, like a mother's intuition."
Paramedics in Petaluma were sent to her son’s home shortly after 11 p.m that night in February. He had relapsed on heroin.
They tried to revive him. They did their best. He was pronounced dead 37 minutes later.
He was 19 years old.
"If we get these drugs off the internet that might save someone's life,’’ his mother said.
And it’s not just Craigslist advertising drugs. There are videos on other social media sites on how to administer drugs. And authorities say Snapchat is often used to buy and sell drugs in a quick and anonymous way.
Jeffrey Walker knows all too much about how online sites are used in the U.S. drug trade.
"I first heard about Craigslist because I saw on the news that there were people selling drugs on Craigslist,’’ said Walker. “My immediate thought was ‘wow that's a really dumb thing to do.’ Who would put their information out like that, not even encrypted with no sort of privacy or protection against law enforcement?”
Walker later developed an addiction to opioids after experimenting with prescription pills in high school and college.
“Once you get addicted you can't really stop. So, if your supply runs out, you're going to start getting real creative on ways to find your fix,’’ he said in a recent interview with KTVU 2 Investigates.
Soon, Craigslist became a matter of convenience for Walker to get the pills when and where he needed them.
“It's totally anonymous. You don't have to know anything about these people, they don't need to know anything about you. You respond to an ad online and you pick up whatever drug it is that you're looking for,’’ Walker said. Craigslist did not respond to repeated attempts by KTVU to reach them.
Needing money to buy pills, he turned to dealing drugs on Craigslist himself.
“Anytime I was selling something on Craigslist I tried to be as subtle as possible, to disguise words, to use slang, to give as little information as possible,’’ he said. “Obviously never give your name or location."
He was nervous about the transactions all the time and eventually got clean and sober about 3 ½ years ago. He graduated from college and began working as a writer. He’s published several stories about his battle with addiction.
But, while he is still sober, Walker knows the outcome of consuming drugs bought online could have ended in death, like it did for Baldini.
“There's no quality control,’’ Walker said. “This is all black market so you could be buying aspirin, you could be buying something that's laced. You truly don't know and that's what makes it so dangerous."
KTVU spoke to an undercover detective with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office about the online drug trade. He asked to remain anonymous because of the nature of his job.
He said local law enforcement can't proactively focus on online classifieds and social media accounts advertising drugs because they are often overloaded tracking child porn, human trafficking and other violent and major cybercrimes.
“It’s tough,’’ the detective said. “There's a lot of posts to go through every day. We're also a very busy unit.”
Although some Bay Area police departments once dedicated time to policing Craigslist, priorities have changed and few detectives spend their days solely looking for drug sales ads on social media sites.
But when a tip comes in, they investigate.
"It's always trying to stay a step ahead of the dealers,’’ the detective said. “Sometimes they're a step ahead of us but we're trying to gain some traction on them."
While plenty of people continue to buy drugs online without serious consequences, others get clean and sober after years of drug abuse.
In fact, at Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services in Petaluma, founder Scott Sowle said his facility is full almost all the time. There is room for 16 boys but the facility is soon expanding to have beds for 26 boys between the ages of 12 and 17.
“We're seeing it more and more this year,’’ Sowle said.
He said he’s heard the stories from the boys about where they got their drugs.
"At home, a lot of these boys--behind closed doors in their bedrooms--are either on the dark web or even now they're going on Craigslist,’’ Sowle said.
If you or someone you know is battling addiction, here are some resources to find help:
- Drugabuse.com is a resource for addicts as well as family and friends looking to help someone battling addiction. The resource center can be found online at www.drugabuse.com or by calling 1-877-941-2814.
- American Addiction Centers is a resource to find a drug rebab or detox center. They can be found online at www.americanaddictioncenters.org or by calling 888-987-1784.
- Narcotics Anonymous will help those using drugs find a 12-step meeting. They can be found online at www.na.org. Their phone number is 818.773.9999.