FBI says hearsay can be harmful in missing children investigations

FBI investigating social media

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Shelley Lynch is the face behind social media for the FBI Charlotte.

“When someone posts something, it’s being read," Lynch said.

Read that again - the FBI reads all comments about high-profile cases - including the six missing children cases we’ve had in the last 30 months.

“But unfortunately, many times what we end up doing is going on a wild goose chase because we find out someone just made up that piece of information and wrote it as if it were fact when there’s no truth to it at all," Lynch said.

Example A: My Facebook page last week about Faye Swetlik, missing from Cayce, South Carolina.

Many had sympathetic kind comments, but a few people said the accused killer had Faye’s body in his house for days. The autopsy showed that not to be true; that she died hours after she was missing.

Example B: A post about Maddox Ritch, missing in Gaston County in 2018.

Two days before he was found a woman wrote, “The little boy has been found in a storm drain near north Gaston school!”

“Now we knew we had not found Maddox’s body," Lynch said. "So did someone in the public stumble across it? Did someone do their own search and they found him? Now we’ve got to spend time going to hunt down those people on social media and talk to them about it.”

Which the FBI did. And no, it wasn’t true.

Example C concerns Hania Aguilar, kidnapped from her front yard in Lumberton, also in 2018.

“I had one particular post that a lot of reporters asked me about where someone said they had seen her at a gas station and that she had asked for $5 for gas," Lynch said. "And I had very clearly for days been saying, and as you said in big, bold letters, ‘Kidnapped.’ We knew she’d been kidnapped. We knew she’d been kidnapped. We were pleading for information.”

But Lynch had to investigate because what if she was seen asking for gas money?

Lynch sent FBI agents to the poster’s door to late-night knock, and she suddenly told agents she wasn’t really sure. Yet her post had been written with conviction and no words to cushion the speculation."

“If you want to say that, you know, someone told you this or you heard this, that is fine," Lynch said. "Absolutely. But it is the wording when it is shared as an absolute fact, and you don’t really know it’s an absolute fact. That’s when it can be a detriment to what we’re doing.”

Everybody has power now with social media. It can be a great tool in locating missing people.

The FBI is asking you to please use that power smartly.

“Every second counts," Lynch said. "Every second counts. So to have someone make something up and post it online as if it’s a fact is heartbreaking in itself.”

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