Internet Sleuthing Fuels Rumors About University of Idaho Murders – NBC New York | Jobs Recent

Investigators have yet to identify a suspect in the stabbing of four University of Idaho students who were found dead in a home near the school’s campus last month. But would-be armchair detectives and Internet sleuths have come up with a few of their own, conclusions mostly based on guesswork and hearsay.

Online forums with thousands of members are full of people speculating about possible motives, criticizing the victims’ friends and acquaintances and even outright claiming that other people are the killers.

“People go down these rabbit holes, and they really focus on one person and attack that person,” said Tauna Davis, an Idaho State trooper who helps the Moscow Police Department deal with the flood of media interview requests. “He is attacking, probably, an innocent person.”

Few details have been released about the murders, which left the small college town shaken and grieving for Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin. The four were friends and all members of the university’s Greek program.

The murder has attracted worldwide attention, especially among true crime couples. That may be because few facts are known about the case, said Julie Wiest, a sociology professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and an expert on extreme media violence.

“Typically right now, there’s a lot of facts that have been released by law enforcement, so I’ve seen that build up to kind of digging and probably grasping at straws by people,” Wiest said. when it’s cold, you might see people digging that way.”

Many online sleuths may be well-intentioned, he said — perhaps driven by a desire to avoid similar crimes, hoping to bring justice or seeking a little notoriety among real crimes.

But they may not realize the damage that speculation can cause, and today’s theories will probably still be on the Internet from now on, forever linking innocent people to heinous crimes.

“Maybe people should think about knowing what they write is written forever, and maybe remember that there are real people here. The families of the victims should also be considered,” said Wiest. “You can speculate while talking to your friends in your living room, but once you put it on the Internet – even if it’s just one thought that entered your mouth. headache – it’s there now and it won’t go away.”

The victims and their friends are so young that so much of their lives are written online, providing a wealth of material that web surfers use to mine. Photos and rumors that were once shared with a small circle are now widely circulated, exposing subjects to abuse.

Captain Roger Lanier of the Moscow Police Department provided updates Wednesday on the stabbing of four University of Idaho students, and asked anyone with tips to call 208-883-7180.

Some sleuths suggested that one person’s photo of a successful hunting trip was evidence of a sinister tendency. They may not have known that hunting is a common pastime for many Idaho families and that fixed-blade knives are a staple tool for anyone hunting wild game.

Others chase rumors posted on a completely anonymous online messaging site known as a source of lies, scandals and misinformation. Those rumors criticized and published personal information about various people in the Moscow area, suggesting that they should be suspects.

Some have even examined the bodies of other University of Idaho students who have died in the past few years in an attempt to connect them to the murder victims, although none of the other deaths were the result of foul play. At least one grieving family member has taken to the Internet to ask people to stop trying to connect their child’s death to the crime and to respect the family’s privacy.

All rumors and wild speculation aside, there can be some benefit to crowdsourced investigations.

“Many heads are better than one, and it’s possible that people on the Internet know something that the police don’t,” said Christopher Slobogin, a law professor at Vanderbilt University.

The police are accepting tips but urge people to focus on the information released by the police department, not to speculate or hearsay. Last week, they asked for the public’s help in finding a white sedan that was seen in the area at the time of the murder.

Internet forums and members of the public sprung into action, and Moscow police announced Thursday that investigators are now sifting through 22,000 2011-2013 registered Hyundai Elantras that fit the search criteria. The department thanked the tipsters for their help in providing more information about the vehicle.

It is the duty of law enforcement to follow those leads, Slobogin noted.

“We don’t want vigilantes who try to take the law into their own hands,” he said.

Robbie Johnson, a spokesman for the Moscow Police Department, said the attention and speculation are “very bad” for the people at the center of it.

“None of them do bad things. Nothing,” he said. “We all have our LinkedIn pages, or Facebook pages, and this can happen to anyone who is involved in some kind of crime. I have a lot of sympathy for them.”

Johnson declined to talk about the nature of the abuse for fear of fanning the flames.

“Speculation, rumours, allegations – anything you can add to that fire will make it hotter, so I don’t want to add anything to that,” he said.

The police department announced earlier this month that it will file charges against abusers if necessary.

In a video statement, Capt. Roger Lanier said some people in the community have received death threats and the result is the rehabilitation of people who have been “very traumatized.”

He also added that rumors and harassment can be discouraging, but investigators are forced to solve this case.

“We’re making progress every day, every hour,” Johnson said, “and that’s what keeps you confident and moving — you know the investigation is going somewhere.”

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