Suicide of Sunil Tripathi

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Sunil Tripathi
Sunil Tripathi.jpg
BornAugust 14, 1990
StatusBody found April 23, 2013
DiedMarch or April 2013 (aged 22)
Cause of deathSuicide by drowning
Alma materBrown University
Known forWrongly accused of being one of the perpetrators of an April 15, 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon

Sunil Tripathi (August 14, 1990 – March or April 2013) was an American student who went missing on March 16, 2013. His disappearance received widespread media attention after he was wrongfully accused on social media as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing. Tripathi had actually been missing for a month prior to the April 15, 2013, bombings. His body was found on April 23, after the actual bombing suspects had been officially identified and apprehended.


Sunil Tripathi, a Brown University undergraduate student, had gone missing on March 16, 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 turned to social media to assist in their search for their son, uploading a video to YouTube and setting up a Facebook page.[2] His parents were migrants from India.[3]


In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, Tripathi was one of several people misidentified as a suspect by users on social media. On April 16, 2013, one day after the bombings, Reddit users created a subreddit named r/findbostonbombers with the intention of consolidating the information surrounding the events of the bombings in an attempt to identify the culprits of the attack.[4] By Wednesday, April 17, over 3000 people had joined the subreddit in order to crowdsource the investigation of the evidence.[5] At 5:00 p.m. on April 18, the Federal Bureau of Investigation published photos of the suspects believed to be involved in the bombings.[6] Soon after, another Redditor named Sunil as a plausible suspect after asserting a resemblance between the suspects in the FBI's pictures and Sunil, who had gone missing a month before the bombings. Although this behavior violated the subreddit's rule that prohibited naming suspects without evidence, the moderators did not delete the post. To further the speculation behind Tripathi, a woman claiming to be his classmate tweeted that she too thought Tripathi resembled a suspect in the FBI's photographs.[7]

Soon after the release of the photos, people began trying to contact the Tripathi family, through phone calls on ABC News, as well as angry messages on Tripathi's Facebook page, dedicated to finding Sunil.[8] At 11 p.m. on the same day, the real bombing suspects (Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev) shot and killed a police officer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Department.[9] The following day at 2:45 a.m., a redditor reposted a tweet by twitter user "Greg Hughes": "BPD has identified the names: Suspect 1: Mike Mulugeta. Suspect 2: Sunil Tripathi."[10] This caught the mainstream media's attention after BuzzFeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski shared a tweet that named Sunil as the primary suspect from his personal Twitter account.[10] According to the BBC, Tripathi had soon become the "standout suspect" on social media before the FBI identified the real suspects to be the Tsarnaev brothers.[11] Sunil was found dead on April 23.[12] Mulugeta was an unrelated person whose last name was spelled out in the Boston Police scanner that night, and whose first name was never confirmed to be "Mike." Tripathi's name was never mentioned in the scanner.[10][13]


The misidentification of Tripathi led to questions in the media about whether the so-called "crowd-sourced investigations" should be prevented in the future, citing the harm caused to people such as the relatives of Tripathi, as well as other wrongly-identified suspects who then 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.[11] Reddit issued a public apology for allowing its users to form a subcommunity called FindBostonBombers, wherein they openly speculated upon suspects.[14]

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.[11]

Discovery of death[edit]

A body was found floating in the stretch of the Seekonk River behind the Wyndham Garden Providence hotel on April 23, 2013.[15][16] Using dental records, it was confirmed to be Sunil Tripathi. The cause of death was not immediately known, but authorities said they did not suspect foul play.[17] The family later confirmed Tripathi's death was a result of suicide.[18]

In media[edit]

The CBS drama, The Good Wife based the episode "Whack-a-Mole" (first aired on November 24, 2013) 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.[19]

In "Boston", the season 3 premiere of the HBO series, The Newsroom (first aired on November 9, 2014), the editorial staff discuss the misidentification of Tripathi.[20]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Family says Sunil Tripathi showed signs depression". deccanchronicle. April 27, 2013. Archived from the original on July 15, 2013. Retrieved December 11, 2021.
  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 April 3, 2015. Retrieved January 17, 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. ^ "Sunil Tripathi: missing student wrongly identified as Boston Marathon bombing suspect". Retrieved March 18, 2021.
  4. ^ "Reddit's 'Find Boston Bombers' Founder Says 'It Was a Disaster' but 'Incredible'". The Atlantic. April 22, 2013. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
  5. ^ "Reddit Wants the Boston Bomber's Blood". April 18, 2013. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
  6. ^ "Should Reddit Be Blamed for the Spreading of a Smear?". New York Times. July 25, 2013. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
  7. ^ "How Social Media Smeared A Missing Student As A Terrorism Suspect". NPR. Retrieved March 28, 2022.
  8. ^ "Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi - Home". Facebook. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
  9. ^ "'It was him,' defense admits as Marathon bombing trial begins". The Boston Globe. March 4, 2015. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
  10. ^ a b c Madrigal, Alexis C. (April 19, 2013). "#BostonBombing: The Anatomy of a Misinformation Disaster". The Atlantic. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
  11. ^ a b c Boston bombing: How internet detectives got it very wrong BBC News, April 19, 2013
  12. ^ Koh, Elizabeth (April 25, 2013). "Body found Tuesday confirmed to be Tripathi's". The Brown Daily Herald.
  13. ^ Genovario, Kevin (April 20, 2013). "Mike Mulugeta: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Retrieved March 28, 2022.
  14. ^ "Reddit apologises for online Boston 'witch hunt'". BBC News. April 23, 2013. Retrieved April 27, 2013.
  15. ^ Providence police: 'very possible' that body found is Sunil Tripathi The Guardian, April 24, 2013
  16. ^ "Body of Missing Student at Brown Is Discovered". New York Times. April 26, 2013. Archived from the original on July 15, 2015. His disappearance mystified the authorities and his family, who said they had been in daily communication with him before he left.
  17. ^ 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 April 3, 2015. Retrieved January 17, 2015. The cause of the student's death has still be determined but the medical examiner said no foul play was suspected.
  18. ^ Nark, Jason. "The Boston bombing's forgotten victim". Philadelphia Daily News. Archived from the original on November 15, 2014. Retrieved October 31, 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.
  19. ^ John Herman (November 26, 2013). "Why Everyone In Tech Needs To Be Watching "The Good Wife"". BuzzFeed. Archived from the original on July 14, 2015. 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.
  20. ^ Emily Yahr (November 9, 2014). "'The Newsroom' premiere: Aaron Sorkin takes on dangers of the Internet, citizen journalism". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 11, 2015. 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.