The amateur detective sleuths on 4Chan, Reddit and other social sites were so eager to demonstrate their investigative prowess in the information vacuum days following the Boston Bombing, they managed to identify virtually everyone who appeared even slightly tanned and/or had a backpack as a potential suspect. Sadly, the game, as well-meaning as it may have been, just turned lethal for one of the people who were falsely identified, as NBC just confirmed that Sunil Tripathi, 22, a former student at Brown University has been found dead in the Providence River.
From NBC's twitter feed:
CONFIRMED: Brown University student falsely identified as Boston bombing suspect found dead in Providence River— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 25, 2013
Previously from the Boston Globe:
Police in Providence pulled a man’s body from the Providence River on Tuesday, and authorities said it is “very possible” that it is Sunil Tripathi, 22, a former Brown University student who has been missing since mid-March.
Providence police Lieutenant Joseph Donnelly said Tuesday night that “it’s very, very possible” that the body could be Tripathi’s, but also said authorities will not know for sure until the medical examiner’s office in Providence identifies the body Wednesday morning. Donnelly said Tripathi’s family has not been notified of the body’s recovery.
Donnelly said the body was found in the river behind the Wyndham Garden Providence Hotel at around 6 p.m. The coach of Brown’s rowing team, which practices in that area, saw the body floating in the water and called police, Donnelly said.
Tripathi was last seen in his apartment on Angell Street in Providence around 11 a.m. on March 16.
Reddit forum apologized to Tripathi's family for naming him as the suspect accused of setting off a series of explosions near the marathon's finish line. "I'd like to extend the deepest apologies to the family of Sunil Tripathi for any part we may have had in relaying what has turned out to be faulty information," the moderator wrote in a statement. "We cannot begin to know what you're going through and for that we are truly sorry.
A woman who went to high school with Tripathi wrongfully named him as one of the men wanted by the FBI. "Several users, twitter users, and other sources had heard him identified as the suspect and believed it to be confirmed," the statement continued. "We were mistaken."
Reddit's general manager, Erik Martin, also apologized to the family.
The accusation added Tripathi to a list of others mistaken for the suspects, or targeted, based on their skin color. Last week, a Bangladeshi man from the Bronx was beaten out of retaliation for the marathon attack, which he had nothing to do with.
Perhaps it is time to reevaluate the crowdsourced approach to "solving" crimes? Perhaps it is also time to remember the whole "innocent until proven guilty" saying, as meaningless as it may be in our day and age.