Amateur social media sleuth outs wrong James Holmes on Facebook

Josh Peterson Contributor
Font Size:

In the rush to identify the Aurora, Colo. shooter that killed 12 people and wounded 59 others at a Thursday midnight showing of the new Batman movie, amateur Internet sleuth John Hawkins publicly identified the wrong person.

Hawkins, self-described as an “independent operator” of RightWing News, posted a blog post Friday morning after he had received news about the Aurora movie theater massacre. In the post, he posted the link to a Facebook account belonging to a James P. Holmes, who he assumed, but was not sure, was the identity of the shooter.

While privacy advocates raise numerous concerns about how law enforcement is using social media to track and identify suspects, social media also makes it easier for private citizens to enter the game as well.

“Were I guessing, I’d say this IS NOT the page, but nothing else on Facebook in the area seems to fit well,” Hawkins concluded.

An unrepentant Hawkins updated the piece after he was blasted by critics in the article comment section, continued his attempt to sleuth out the story, only removing the link upon his third of fourth updates to the piece.

Colorado police held a press conference during the middle of the day on Friday positively identifying the suspect and confirmed he was in custody.

The victim of Hawkins recklessness posted a statement on his Facebook Timeline Friday morning, addressed to “Dearest random Facebook people who keep confusing me for a mass murderer and yet still send me Facebook requests.”

“I appreciate the fact that you are trying to become better-informed about the occurrences last night in Aurora, but you have been somewhat mislead, in that I am not the man who did it,” said the other Holmes. “I am not a 24-year-old gun-slinging killer from Aurora, I am a 22-year-old book-slinging mass eater from Littleton.”

His statement, posted 9:29 a.m. EDT, continued, saying, “James Holmes happens to be a pretty common name, surprisingly, so try not to jump the gun.” The post has since been shared 528 times.

Hawkins responding to TheDC in an email statement, saying, “Just to be clear, the conclusion in the original post was, “I’d say this IS NOT the page, but nothing else on Facebook in the area seems to fit well.”

Hawkins continued to defend his actions, saying that he was not alone in linking to Holmes’ profile under the suspicion that he was the mass murderer.

“In retrospect, although the the link to the page in question was just starting to appear on Twitter and forums across the Internet, I would not have actually linked to the page,” he said. “As to an apology, after the James Holmes in question posted, I sent him a personal apology through Facebook for any trouble that my post may have caused him.”

“I should not have actually linked to that Facebook page although the link was already showing up on Twitter, forums, and across the web by then,” said Hawkins.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media also jumped the gun in this instance.

ABC news reporter Brian Ross suggested Friday morning that another Colorado man by a similar name might be the shooter due to his ties to the Tea Party.

Facebook and Twitter — who are known to cooperate with law enforcement regarding the apprehension of criminal suspects — declined TheDC’s request for comment on whether they have been contacted by authorities about the shooting, and whether they are cooperating with the investigation.

Follow Josh on Twitter