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, initially by 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 Seekonk 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.[8] The family later confirmed Tripathi's death was a result of suicide.[9]

In media[edit]

2015 documentary feature film[edit]

Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi, completed in early 2015, is a documentary feature film. The film examines what happened during the night of the misidentification and how the story spread from social media to traditional media in the race to be first in reporting the story. Told through interviews with the Tripathi family, friends, journalists and former Reddit general manager Erik Martin the film features voicemails left by journalists and family footage.

Fictionalized versions on television[edit]

The CBS drama, The Good Wife based the episode "Whack-a-Mole" on the misidentification of Tripathi. Although the name was changed, the creator of the show researched what happened to Tripathi and based the episode around the legal ramifications that social media sites potentially face as a result of false information being disseminated.[10]

The HBO series, The Newsroom opened season 3 with the episode, "Boston". In the show, the editorial staff discuss the misidentification of Tripathi.[11]


  1. ^ "Family says Sunil Tripathi showed signs depression". deccanchronicle. April 27, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-27. 
  2. ^ Buncombe, Andrew. "Family of Sunil Tripathi - missing student wrongly linked to Boston marathon bombing - thank well-wishers for messages of support". The Independent. Archived from the original on 17 January 2015. Retrieved 17 January 2015. His family launched a search across the state of Rhode Island to try to find him and produced a video which they uploaded on to YouTube urging "Sunny" to come home. 
  3. ^ "When the Tail Wags the Dog: Dangers of Crowdsourcing Justice". July 27, 2013. Retrieved 2013-07-27. 
  4. ^ a b c Boston bombing: How internet detectives got it very wrong BBC News, 19 April 2013
  5. ^ a b Providence police: 'very possible' that body found is Sunil Tripathi The Guardian, 24 April 2013
  6. ^ "Reddit apologises for online Boston 'witch hunt'". BBC News. April 23, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-27. 
  7. ^ "Body of Missing Student at Brown Is Discovered". New York Times. 2013-04-26. Archived from the original on 2015-07-15. His disappearance mystified the authorities and his family, who said they had been in daily communication with him before he left. 
  8. ^ Buncombe, Andrew. "Family of Sunil Tripathi - missing student wrongly linked to Boston marathon bombing - thank well-wishers for messages of support". The Independent. Archived from the original on 17 January 2015. Retrieved 17 January 2015. The cause of the student's death has still be determined but the medical examiner said no foul play was suspected. 
  9. ^ Nark, Jason. "The Boston bombing's forgotten victim". Philadelphia Daily News. Archived from the original on 31 October 2014. Retrieved 31 October 2014. Akhil spent the most time with Sunny before his suicide, weekends at Brown where he tried to help his youngest child foresee a future. 
  10. ^ John Herman (2013-11-26). "Why Everyone In Tech Needs To Be Watching "The Good Wife"". Buzzfeed. Archived from the original on 2015-07-14. The rolling waves of online misinformation and paranoia in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing were swift-moving and powerful; for the family of Sunil Tripathi, a Brown University student who went missing a month prior to the attacks, they compounded a tragedy. Rumors spread that Tripathi was involved with the bombing during the short window before the real suspects were identified, fueled in no small part by the zeal of a small group of users on Reddit. He was, in fact, deceased. [unreliable source?]
  11. ^ Emily Yahr (2014-11-09). "‘The Newsroom’ premiere: Aaron Sorkin takes on dangers of the Internet, citizen journalism". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2015-11-25. It’s the beginning of the end of “The Newsroom.” On Sunday night, the series kicked off its third and final six-episode season with its usual premise: The ACN “News Night with Will McAvoy” team covering a major news event that occurred many months ago in real life.