Internet investigation causes rumors of the University of Idaho murders – NBC New York

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 would-be armchair detectives and internet sleuths have come up with several, the conclusions often based on conjecture and rumor.

Online forums with thousands of members are filled with people speculating about possible motives, doxxing victims’ friends and acquaintances, and even outright labeling some people as murderers.

“People are going down these rabbit holes, and they’re focusing too much on one individual and attacking that individual,” said Tauna Davis, an Idaho State Police officer who is helping the Moscow Police Department to manage the influx of media interview requests. “You are most likely attacking an innocent person.”

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

The murders garnered worldwide attention, especially among true crime enthusiasts. That’s likely because so few facts are known about the case, said Julie Wiest, a sociology professor at West Chester University of Pennsylvania and an expert on extreme media violence.

“Usually by now, there are more facts that have been released by law enforcement, so I could see that increasing the kind of digging and almost straw-grabbing by people,” 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 driven by a desire to avoid similar crimes, hoping to bring justice, or simply seeking a bit of fame within the true crime fandom.

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

“People should perhaps think they know what they post is written forever, and maybe even remember that there are real people here. The families of the victims should also be considered,” Wiest said. head – he is there now and will not leave.

The victims and their friends are young enough that much of their lives have been documented online, providing a wealth of material for web investigators to mine. Photos and rumors once shared with a close circle are now widely circulated, exposing the subjects to harassment.

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

Some investigators have suggested that one person’s photo from a successful hunting trip was evidence of nefarious inclinations. They may not be aware that hunting is a common pastime for many Idaho families and that fixed blade knives are an essential tool for anyone who enjoys game hunting.

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

Some have even looked into the obituaries of other University of Idaho students who have died in recent years in an effort to link them to the murder victims, though none of the other deaths were the result of foul play. At least one bereaved family member has gone online to ask people to stop trying to link his son’s death to the case and to respect the family’s privacy.

All rumors and wild conjectures aside, there may be benefits to crowdsourcing surveying.

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

Police welcome suggestions but urge people to stay focused on information released by the police department, not guesses and rumours. They asked the public for help last week in tracking down a white sedan that was seen in the area around the time of the murders.

Internet forums and community members got to work, and Moscow police announced Thursday that investigators were examining 22,000 registered 2011-2013 Hyundai Elantra cars that matched their search criteria. The department thanked the whistleblowers for their help by providing additional information about the vehicle.

It is the job of law enforcement agencies to follow these leads, Slobogin noted.

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

Robbie Johnson, a spokesman for the Moscow police department, said the attention and speculation had been “horrific” for the people at the center of it all.

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

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

“The speculation, the rumors, the allegations — anything you put on that fire will just make it burn hotter, so I won’t say more,” 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 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 the rumors and harassment can be daunting, but detectives are driven to crack the case.

“We make progress every day, every hour,” Johnson said, “and that’s what keeps you feeling confident and moving forward, knowing the investigation is going somewhere.”