Student wrongly tied to Boston bombings found dead

A sad end to a sad tale of reckless Internet rumors dogging a family in mourning

Sunil Tripathi had been missing since mid-March.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Brown University)

Rhode Island authorities confirmed Thursday that a body recovered this week from the Providence River is that of Sunil Tripathi, the missing Brown University student whom Reddit's internet sleuths wrongly linked to the Boston Marathon bombing.

"We have confirmed the identity of the young man found in the water off India Point in Providence," Dara Chadwick, a Rhode Island Department of Health spokesperson, said Thursday.

According to USA Today, the Brown crew team found his body Tuesday evening. It's unclear exactly how or when Tripathi died — a medical examiner has yet to determine a cause of death — but there is currently no suspicion of foul play. His family has said he struggled with depression, according to NBC.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Tripathi, 22, had been missing since mid-March. Yet in the frantic digital vigilante search online for suspects following the Boston Marathon bombing, Sunil somehow emerged as a potential suspect.

As soon as the FBI released the first photos of the suspects, now known to be Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, posters on Reddit and 4Chan raced to identify the two men. A leading theory soon emerged that Tripathi, given his recent disappearance, had snuck off to prepare for the attack. That speculation rapidly spread to Twitter, where Tripathi's name became a trending topic. One Twitter user erroneously claimed that someone on the Boston Police Department scanner — itself an unreliable source of information — specifically named him as a suspect. Soon, news crews descended on his parents' home looking for answers.

Except that Tripathi was completely innocent. The only evidence against him, it turned out, was that he'd gone missing at an inopportune time. As the New Yorker's Amy Davidson put it, those internet investigators had simply "looked at that video and saw who and what they may have wanted to see."

The family, already grief-stricken at Tripathi's disappearance, shut down a Facebook page established to aid their search when speculation about his involvement in Boston, as well as a lot of ugly hatred, spread there. They released a statement proclaiming his innocence.

"The last eighteen hours have generated tremendous and painful attention — on social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, as well as from television media inquiries— linking Sunil to the video stills released by the FBI yesterday afternoon," they said. "Unequivocally, we have known that neither individual suspected as responsible for the incident in Boston was Sunil."

On Monday, a Reddit moderator apologized to Tripathi's family for allowing the hive mind to run so wildly out of control. "This event shows exactly why the no personal information until confirmation rule is in place," the apology read. "Out of respect for Tripathi and his family, I ask that users here please remove any and all links about him. Thank you."

In response to news of Tripathi's body being found, his family issued the following statement Thursday through their reactivated Facebook page.

On April 23, our beloved Sunil was discovered in the waters off India Point Park in Providence, Rhode Island.

As we carry indescribable grief, we also feel incredible gratitude. To each one of you–from our hometown to many distant lands–we extend our thanks for the words of encouragement, for your thoughts, for your hands, for your prayers, and for the love you have so generously shared.

Your compassionate spirit is felt by Sunil and by all of us.

This last month has changed our lives forever, and we hope it will change yours too. Take care of one another. Be gentle, be compassionate. Be open to letting someone in when it is you who is faltering. Lend your hand. We need it. The world needs it.

With love,

The Tripathi Family

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.