Internet Investigation Sparks Rumors About University of Idaho Murders – NBC 7 Bay Area

Investigators have yet to name a suspect in the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students who were found dead in a home near campus last month. But aspiring parlor detectives and Internet sleuths have reached a number of them, the conclusions often being based on guesswork and hearsay.

Online forums with thousands of members are full of people speculating on possible motives, misleading friends and acquaintances of victims, and even labeling some people as murderers.

“People go down these rabbit holes and focus too much on one individual and attack them,” said Tauna Davis, an Idaho state trooper who is helping the Moscow Police Department handle an influx of interview requests from police officers. media. “You are attacking, most likely, an innocent person.”

Relatively few details have been released about the slayings, which have left the small college town shocked and grieving for Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin. The four were friends and all members of the Greek university system.

The murders have drawn worldwide attention, especially among true crime buffs. That’s likely because so little is known about the case, said Julie Wiest, a sociology professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and an expert on extreme violence in the media.

“Usually by now, there are more facts that have been released by law enforcement, so I could see the type of digging and almost grabbing straws by people increasing,” Wiest said. “It’s not that typical, except in high profile. cold cases, where you might see people digging like that.”

Many of the detectives online are likely well-meaning, he said, perhaps motivated by a desire to prevent similar crimes, hoping to bring justice, or simply seeking a bit of fame among the true crime fanatic.

But they may not realize the damage wild speculation can cause, and current theories are likely to still exist online years from now, forever linking innocent people to a brutal crime.

“People should maybe think about knowing their writing forever, and maybe also remember that there are real people here. The families of the victims should also be considered,” Wiest said. “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 a single thought that occurred to you head, it’s there now and it’s not going away.”

The victims and their friends are young enough to document much of their lives online, providing a wealth of material for web detectives. Photos and rumors once shared with a small circle are now spreading widely, exposing subjects to harassment.

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

Some detectives suggested that a person’s photo from a successful hunting trip was evidence of nefarious inclinations. They may not have known that hunting is a common hobby for many Idaho families and that fixed blade knives are a staple tool for anyone caring for wild game.

Others went after rumors posted on a completely anonymous online message board best known as a source of hoaxes, scandals and misinformation. Those rumors criticized and published personal information about several people in the Moscow area, suggesting that they should be suspects.

Some even examined the obituaries of other University of Idaho students who died in recent years in an attempt to link them to the homicide victims, although none of the other deaths were the result of a crime. At least one grieving family member went online to ask people to stop trying to link her son’s death to the case and to respect the family’s privacy.

All rumors and wild guesses aside, there may be some benefit to collaborative research.

“More 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.

Police welcome tips, but urge people to stay focused on information released by the police department, not guesswork or hearsay. Last week they asked the public for help in tracking down a white sedan that was seen in the area at the time of the murders.

Internet forums and community members went to work, and Moscow police announced Thursday that investigators were now sorting through 22,000 registered 2011-2013 Hyundai Elantras that matched their search criteria. The department thanked the tipsters for their help in providing additional information about the vehicle.

Law enforcement’s job is to follow up on those tips, Slobogin said.

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

Robbie Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Moscow Police Department, said the attention and speculation have been “terrible” for the people at the center of all this.

“None of these people did anything wrong. Nothing,” she said. “We all have our LinkedIn or Facebook pages, and this could really happen to anyone involved in any kind of crime. I have a lot of sympathy for them.”

Johnson declined to discuss the nature of the harassment for fear of fanning the flames.

“The speculation, the rumors, the accusations – anything you put on that fire is only going to make it burn hotter, so I don’t want to add to that,” he said.

The police department announced earlier this month that it would press charges against the harassers if necessary.

In a video statement, Captain Roger Lanier said that some people in the community have received death threats and the effect is a re-victimization of people who have suffered “terrible trauma.”

He added that rumors and harassment can be discouraging, but investigators are determined to crack the case.

“We’re making progress every day, every hour,” Johnson said, “and that’s what makes you feel confident and active, knowing that the investigation is going somewhere.”

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