Disappearance of Sunil Tripathi

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Sunil Tripathi

Sunil Tripathi was an American student who went missing on 16 March 2013. His disappearance received widespread media attention after he was wrongfully accused on social media as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. Tripathi had been missing for a month prior to the 15 April 2013 bombings. His body was found on 23 April, after the actual bombing suspects had been officially identified and apprehended.


Sunil Tripathi, a Brown University undergraduate student, had gone missing on 16 March 2013, having suspended his studies due to bouts of depression.[1] He had left his phone and wallet behind in his student accommodation. Known by his family as "Sunny", he was 22 years old at the time of his disappearance. The family had turned to social media to assist in their search for their son, uploading a video to YouTube and setting up a Facebook page.[2]


In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, Tripathi was one of several people misidentified as a suspect by users of social media, such as his former classmate from high school who had not seen him in three years,[3] who were posting their personal theories about the bombings on sites such as Reddit, 4chan, Facebook and Twitter. According to the BBC, Tripathi had soon become the "standout suspect" in social media before the actual suspects were later named by the FBI as brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.[4] Before they were officially identified, social media users had been suggesting that Tripathi was the so-called 'white cap' suspect shown in an FBI-released photo of the brothers.[5] In the early hours of 19 April, Tamerlan was shot by police and then driven over by his brother, dying from his injuries, while Dzhokhar was arrested after a manhunt ended in another shooting later that day.


The misidentification of Tripathi led to questions in the media about whether the so-called "crowd-sourced investigations" should be prevented in future, citing the harm caused to people like the family of Tripathi, as well as other wrongly-identified suspects who now feared for their safety. Some argued that they are unstoppable because of the nature of the internet, with the only hope being that awareness of the possible effects of errors such as this would lead to future caution.[4] Reddit issued a public apology for its role in listing the subreddit "Find Boston Bombers", encouraging an "online witch hunt", and wrongly accusing innocent people like Tripathi and others.[6]

Posting on Facebook, Tripathi's family described the tremendous amount of attention the misidentification had caused as painful, but they sought to use the negative publicity of the case to assist in their search by raising awareness.[4]

Discovery of death[edit]

A body was found floating in the stretch of the Providence River behind the Wyndham Garden Providence hotel on 23 April 2013.[5][7] Using dental records, it was confirmed to be that of Tripathi. The cause of death was not immediately known, but authorities said they did not suspect foul play.[2]