Monday, June 16, 2008

Nicholas Francisco Investigated by Amateur Web Detectives

I missed this article when it was published late last month, but it's about my coworker Nicholas Francisco who went missing on February 13, 2008. Nicholas has apparently become a subject of fascination for amateur investigators online. There are several websites dedicated to trying to uncover exactly what happened to him.

For those who don't know, Nicholas left work around 6 p.m. on February 13 and never made it home. He never showed up to work the next day. About a week later, police found his car in a condo parking lot that seemingly has no connection to Nicholas. (You can read my initial reactions from February here and here.)

Anyway, back to the cyber PIs: On the surface, I guess this seems harmless enough. Just collecting facts, passing some theories back and forth. It's nice that they're interested, and who knows, maybe someone will turn up something police and friends and family will miss.

But here's what bugs me about the entire online dialogue over Nicholas' disappearance—it's been bugging me since this situation began, and I at first resisted writing about it for fear that being too personally focused into the drama was giving me a lack of perspective. But I feel more confident in my ability to analyze now. Some of the people who are not directly involved are just not sensitive enough to the stakes here. When he first went missing, an entry was posted on the blog for The Stranger, a local Seattle paper. And someone commented that they knew where he was, they saw him sucking them off behind the nearest 7-11. Many other commenters asked why he deserved to have all of this attention drawn to him in the first place. And especially at those early stages, friends and family were reading these types of postings to see if anyone commented with information or helpful tips. It was really hurtful to read things like that.

Now these casual investigators aren't really doing anything wrong. But they are posting rumors. They're asking questions about whether Nicholas, a married father of two, was secretly gay with a boyfriend on the side. They are saying he had rumored connections to the Wet Spot, a whips-and-chains sex club. Without evidence. Even on a blog, you don't post that kind of stuff about an individual person unless you have something to back it up.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jessica,

I just wanted to say.. a lot of it is not without merit. Although hard to hear or understand.. things have been uncovered and handed over to police that prove that Nicholas was probably into some alternative lifestyle activities. We are not saying that fact alone should deter people from wanting him found. Quite the opposite, in fact. That shouldn't matter and doesn't change the fact that he is still a missing person, who needs to be located. Just because many don't understand that sub culture of people, doesn't mean that they are bad or perverted. The opposite in most cases actually.

If that information could lead to where he is then it is not a bad idea to look at it. The alternative being to ignore it and act like it didn't exist. Which won't help to find him either.

Very tricky situation indeed. As some one that knew him and obviously has her own views on him, I can see this being hard to hear. I just wish that people would stop making that part of his lifestyle so terrible. Many more people are doing it then talk about it.

As a member of those sites who has posted on this case since the beginning, I have to say I have never heard the story about behind the 7-11. There was obviously something seriously wrong with that person for saying something like that. Doesn't say anything really about Nicholas tho or where he might be.

LE is calling the case "inactive". Without a lead to go on, they are not opening pursueing finding him. I would think many would be greatful that there are those of us still trying to keep his memory alive.

Jessica Knapp said...

Well, the 7-11 comment wasn't a story, it was just someone being crude because they thought it was funny. I don't mean to insinuate that your community has any type of connection to comments like that. I should have been more clear about that point.

And I understand the conversation you're having, and I don't dispute your right to have it. Some of the comments just strike me as a little tacky sometimes (hypothesizing whether his wife had anything to do with the crime, asking if he was having an affair with someone at work, things like that). But maybe he's become some sort of celebrity through this situation, and as such, his life is fair game to be written about.

But yes, I guess a part of me is grateful to you for trying to keep his memory alive. And I do appreciate that you understand what a heartbreaking situation this is. I just don't want it to get sensationalized outside of reason, and I don't want a good person to get publicly tarnished without evidence.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to write.

Dani said...

Hi again Jessica,

I am not one of the ones of the mindset that his wife had anything to do with why he has disappeared. I don't really see either of them as a villian. I have tried very hard to remain impartial about the entire thing. I scoff at the idea that it has to be either she is bad or he is bad. I think it is as simple as something happened and for that reason.. he is no longer around. His children are without their daddy. His family without their son and brother. His friends without their friend. Why? What can be done to help to resolve this? Etc. Not knowing has got to be hell and for all of you, I feel deeply.

I think that there is a good indication that he did have another life that he didn't tell people about. But, besides his wife, I really don't think that it's anyone's business what he did in his private life. I don't see these activities as something that made him anything less than what everyone believed him to be. I actually am annoyed that so many think that if he was one then he couldn't have been the other. Why can't he, I ask? I am in the minority in my thinking tho.

Others believe that this tarnishes his good name. Maybe in their eyes it does. Not mine. I think it is a very fine line we walk and some of us have tried very hard not to cross it. Not always doing the best job at it, unfortunately. I do believe, all differences aside, we all really just want the same thing. Whether you are friend, family or websluether.

I think it is great that you have written about him in your blog. He has obviously impacted your life and to me that is what shines through. It seems to be a common thread for those that knew him.

I hope that you all get some answers real soon!

Sorry about leaving such long comments on your blog. Totally off topic.. love your ideas about opening up dialogue about death. I have lost a couple of grandparents myself and have always found so much inspiration in the way that hospice sees death. That it is a beautiful and deeply personal journey.

Blessings to you!

Jessica Knapp said...

Hi Dani.

Well, first of all, you don't ever have to worry about leaving a long comment on my blog ... off topic/on topic, whatever. Any voice added to any discussion is a plus to me. And thank you for the positive comments on my blog.

It sounds like you've put a lot of thought into this situation, and I appreciate that.

I don't want to give the impression that it has been hell for me personally. It certainly has been extremely stressful and surreal at times, and I think it has been worse for other people I work with, and it has been hard to see that.

I'm not judgmental about people who participate in subgroups, and I don't think that's what the issue is about for me. I'm more worried that a person's name is being attached to activities through rumor and innuendo. I just can't help but wonder, if you don't think it's anyone's business what he did in his private life is anyone's business but his and his wife's (which I tend to agree with), why speculate about it online?

It's been strange seeing someone I knew in my day-to-day life turned into a web celebrity of sorts ... and especially in such unpleasant circumstances.

Again, thank you for the dialog. I appreciate your willingness to talk about this in a constructive way.

exurgency/Spectacularrr said...

Hmmm, I sense people being polite and tiptoeing around this. Well I never knew Nicholas and have no involvement in any of this, so I'm going to name the elephant in the room here and call out these so-called "detectives" for their despicable behavior. You all deserve to be shamed.

Whether Nicholas was gay or not, an adulterer or not, or led any kind of alternative lifestyle (or not) is all a red herring. Passing moral judgment on him is not the issue.

The issue is that none of those details are any damn business of the internet / public. If he were alive, such ridiculous rumor-mongering would be grounds for libel. Not libelous because there's something objectively wrong with any of those pursuits (i.e., the "wrongness" of such things is subjective / debatable) but libelous because such things are private personal business which other people have no right to publicly speculate on in a salacious, judgmental manner.

For instance, it's not objectively "good" or "bad" whether I'm an atheist or a Jew or a Buddhist. However, it would be completely unacceptable and potentially libelous for people to publicly speculate about it in a judgmental fashion, for or against. Why? Because it's none of your goddamn business.

Likewise, whether anyone has actual evidence or not is totally beside the point. I presume most people would have the dignity (or at least the fear of public shame) to not trot this bullshit out if he were still alive. Therefore doing it when he has gone missing or is dead is a shameless exploitation of circumstances. His current state of being doesn't make this behavior (on the part of so-called amateur "detectives") any more acceptable or appropriate, regarldess of what you can or can't prove or think you know.

As to whether this information about Nicholas is relevant to investigations: This is yet another red herring -- or in this case, actually, a fig leaf. A pretense. Such details might be relevant to an investigation for professional investigators. Or for his family / friends. But do you think any of them are going to be publicizing such details and kicking them around on the web? Obviously not, because in the case of the professionals it would be the height of unprofessionalism, and in the case of family / friends it is again private business.

So publicly bandying the private details of someone's life on the web is at best unprofessional / counter-productive for a legitimate investigation; and more generally, at worst, a despicable invasion of privacy. In either case, it gives the lie to this pathetic pretense of "helping solve the mystery."

Which leaves us with the question of why people would be discussing such details online? Because you all are reveling in your own gratification over the salacious details of an imagined double-life. You've found what you consider to be a guilt-free excuse to get neck-deep in the worst kind of gossip. You're role-playing your own fantasy as the "clear-eyed, unshockable gumshoe who shows the cops how it's really done." In other words, a bunch of shameful, self-serving indulgence that ought best be kept a guilty secret.

There's no legitimate justification for your behavior -- you are exploiting his disappearance / death for your own execrable entertainment. All this nonsense about "investigation" and "defending" his alleged "alternative lifestyle" is fig leaf and pretense -- and you should all be ashamed of yourselves.

It reminds me of an anecdote that Bobcat Goldthwait once related, which ceases to be amusing in this context. He had been a friend of Kurt Cobain's, and after Cobains's demise, he happened to be on the Howard Stern show. Stern was pestering him for salacious details about Cobain's life / death, and Goldthwait refused to stoop to that.

As it turned out, around that same time Stern was working on some sort of tell-all film about Sam Kinnison's death. So as Stern became hostile and aggressive on the Cobain issue, Goldthwait finally retorted in anger, "Say, what's the name of that film you're producing? 'Picking the Flesh Off of Sam Kinnison's Dead, Bloated Corpse'?"

I think that pretty well sums up these disgraceful intrusions you all have perpetrated on Nicholas and his family.

In other words: Get a life. And leave the Franciscos to theirs.

Dani said...

I agree with your comment to some extent. You obviously feel extremely passionate about it. Yet.. you yourself are commenting on it.

I have a life. I don't enjoy gossip. But.. the fact is.. as soon as the public was asked for help in finding this person, by his wife AND LE, everything you have stated no longer would apply. Nobody went searching for any of this just to gossip about him. They fell for the story. They cared for the people involved because they are fellow human beings.

You are completely wrong about libel. We are protected by our first amendment rights. I have not seen anyone openly try to post false information about anyone just harm their reputation. You can not sue someone for libel for stating correct information or discussing possible scenerios. Whether it be talking about your religious preferences or someone's disappearance.

I choose not to judge anybody for anything. The truth is tho.. we all choose our own truth.

Jessica. The answer to your question about if I don't think it is anyones business what he did in his private life why continue discussing it? I am more of the mindset that I don't understand why IF he may be into some of this stuff then rest of what some think about him can't be true. I don't think it changes what people should think about him nor should it make them think he shouldn't be found. He is still the same person that you knew.. regardless of all of this. Yes.. when it comes down to it, under normal circumstances this is his business and his wife's. But.. again.. his private business became public when the public was asked to help to find him.