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.