On Nov. 13, four students at the University of Idaho were stabbed to death in their home by a killer now suspected to be a 28-year-old man named Bryan Kohberger. Kohberger, a graduate student studying criminology and teaching at a nearby school, was identified by police using surveillance footage as well as other evidence from the crime scene—and, as of last week, details from an affidavit from one of two surviving roommates that was made public last Thursday.
The roommate wrote that she saw the killer walk past her at one point and noticed his bushy eyebrows, despite how his face was entirely covered, as well as his height and athletic frame. She spent most of the night in her room and didn’t call the police until noon, though they said the killer had left by around 4:25 a.m. According to her affidavit, the roommate heard suspicious sounds at varying points in the night, including her roommate crying. The sounds prompted her to open her door three times, but she didn’t see anything and ultimately didn’t act until the following day.
The roughly eight-hour gap between when the killer left and when a call was made to the police, along with other pieces of the affidavit, have since spurred an onslaught of online harassment and scrutiny against the woman in the last few days. BuzzFeed News reports that thousands of TikTokers, YouTubers, redditors, and Facebook and Twitter users have zeroed in on her and another surviving roommate from the house of six, doxxing and attacking them over the events of Nov. 13.
To be clear, police in Moscow, Idaho, working on the case have repeatedly emphasized that the two surviving roommates are not suspects. Family members and attorneys for the families of the slain roommates have also defended the surviving roommates.
That hasn’t stopped rampant misinformation from spreading online—including claims that the roommate who wrote the affidavit had been posting on social media during the attack and ignored her roommates’ screams, and fake audio ostensibly from a neighbor’s security camera.
Instead, the roommate’s last social media post was reportedly at 12:33 a.m. PST on the night of the attack, which is still before the time of the killings. Her affidavit describes hearing crying, but not screaming. And the audio that’s being circulated was pulled from an entirely separate domestic violence incident to serve as an example of what neighbors’ outside cameras can pick up.
Much of the evening of Nov. 13 ultimately remains unclear, but the swift reactions to the surviving roommate’s affidavit and rampant TikTok conspiracy theories reflect the worst of viral true crime culture. In recent years, popular true crime podcasts and YouTube channels have encouraged millions to go down rabbit hole after rabbit hole about other people’s trauma, created by opportunistic and unqualified influencers. For the sake of content, they’re racing to get ahead of stories—often about missing white girls—as victims’ families grieve, and hurling trauma survivors into the spotlight against their will.
In 2021, the disappearance of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, eventually determined to be a murder by her then-boyfriend Brian Laundrie, led to social media platforms being saturated with obsessive theories from true crime junkies, helping the most prolific posters gain millions of views and followers. True crime podcasts and content have emerged as a massively profitable, multi-million dollar industrial complex.
Experts have pointed out that the surviving roommate’s delayed action and other claims from her affidavit that have confused social media users stem from trauma and the “fight, flight, freeze, or fawn” response. Others have argued that she was likely just confused about the events of the night and was used to people coming and going from the house at different hours.
Last week, Alivea Goncalves, the sister of one of the slain roommates, told NewsNation that the surviving roommate “is really young, and she was probably really, really scared.” She added, “Until we have any more information, I think everyone should stop passing judgments because you don’t know what you would do in that situation.”
An attorney for Goncalves’ family told Fox News over the weekend that the surviving roommate was likely “scared to death” and is “still a victim in this case.” He continued, “The fact that she was able to give some additional identification I think is beneficial in this case. She was able to give a kind of type and build and what [the suspect] looked like a little bit—bushy eyebrows, things along those lines.”
As one Twitter user has put it, it’s unsettling that so many people are “more scrutinous and angry at a college girl who survived a psychopath in her home killing her [friends] and roommates, than the actual psychopath who killed her [friends] and roommates.” It’s disheartening that even in the immediate aftermath of tragedy, and no matter the cost to grieving loved ones and survivors, viral true crime content will always make its rounds.