Editor’s note: Some of the links in this story contain profanity.
There’s nothing new about the anger, sadness and confusion that follows a senseless killing. But today, more than ever, people are finding an outlet online to share their grief — and, sometimes, to reveal information authorities won’t.
That’s what is unfolding after the heartbreaking death of 12-year-old Autumn Pasquale, the Clayton girl allegedly strangled by two teen neighbors.
Police arrested the 17- and 15-year-old brothers, but refused to release their names Tuesday. That didn’t matter to dozens, perhaps hundreds, of teens on Twitter, who quickly revealed the suspects' names as those charged with killing Pasquale.
One teen took a screenshot, allegedly of one suspect's Facebook page, of a post at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20. “JUST GOT HOME NOW TIME TOO CHILL” (sic), the post read. While authorities haven’t released a time of death, Pasquale disappeared riding her bike Saturday afternoon.
Teens, both strangers and those who knew Pasquale, are reacting with outrage, not just at that post, but at the case in general.
“I was just looking in that (the 15-year-old suspect's) fb page and people actually feel sorry for him..how can you feel sorry for such a sick person,” (sic) one posted.
Others were posting that the brothers should “rot in hell,” while some just posted the suspects’ names repeatedly. Twitter users also posted the brothers’ pictures and were reporting what others posted to the suspects' Facebook pages, which public users generally cannot see because of privacy settings.
Solving crimes online
Social media has become an integral part of law enforcement. Many local police departments, especially Gloucester Township, use Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to ask for the public’s help to solve crimes, especially when surveillance footage is available. And it often works.
In high-profile cases like this one, family and friends sometimes launch their own social media campaigns to bring attention to the crime. The Twitter account @MissingAutumnNJ quickly popped up as word spread of Pasquale’s disappearance. The account established hashtags, or a key phrase offset with a pound sign, that other Twitter users—including the New Jersey State Police—began using when posting about Pasquale. When enough users do this, it can create a trending topic that draws national attention to an issue.
Suspects sometimes make it easier for police, as well. In the Pasquale killing, the suspects' mom reportedly saw a suspicious Facebook post from one of her sons and reported it. Police used it to find Pasquale’s body and the suspects.
One of the suspects was Facebook friends with Pasquale and her brother.