From MySpace To Murder
When The News And Social Networks Collide
Early in the morning of November 13th, 2005, Kara Borden, a 14-year-old from Lititz, Pennsylvania, logged onto MySpace. The young, bubbly, blonde-haired, brown-eyed homeschooled high school freshman had a profile on the popular networking site, brightly colored with pink-lined black boxes listing her friends and hobbies, a rainbow striped white background and a picture of her in a pink top, smiling with lips closed to hide her braces. She listed her interests as soccer, talking on the phone, the beach and partying. "Books are gay," she wrote. She lied about her age, listing it as 17.
A few hours later she stood by as her boyfriend, David Ludwig, 18, shot and killed her parents.
David was on MySpace too.
Just after noon the next day, Police were able to track the two teens down in Indiana, capturing them after a high speed chase. But before that, as the story of the double murder and the two missing teens hit the news, hundreds of curious, saavy web-surfers soon found Kara and David's MySpace profiles and Xanga blogs. It didn't take long for reporters to begin doing the same thing. A photo used by numerous news web sites was also from the MySpace profile of Kara's best friend. MSNBC was first to report the teens' interests found listed online.
Next to Kara's profile picture is a quote. "...Cause I need you and I miss you," obstensibly from Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles." A reference to David? Or just a favorite song? Strangers commenting on Kara's MySpace blog perused every little detail.
David's MySpace profile, last visited by him on November 12th, provides little to suggest a day later he'd murder two people. Like many other users, he lists his religion, Christian, and his job, Product Specialist at Circuit City. He says he doesn't smoke but does drink. Messages left by his friends include one asking if he's "going to help the smiths move on the 12th." Kara leaves a message, happy that he's signed up for MySpace, and asks him to leave a comment on her page. "<3Kara<3", she signs off.
In a October 24th blog entry, David writes about going to see the new Wallace and Gromit movie, and about visiting a college with his parents. "I did get to go and see Were-Rabbit (the new Wallace and Gromit movie) with a bunch of friends...I enjoyed the movie even if a bunch of ppl didn't..lol it did have some crude humor...but some of it was reeeally funny! lol *wicked grin*"
"So yes and now today I shall be doing school and tomorrow I'm going to visit stupid York Tech school complemints [sic] of my loverly parents lol But yes now I must run and do school so ya'll have a good day. God bless!!"
David's Xanga site states that he enjoys "soft air gun wars" and "getting into trouble." He provides a link to his pictures. An album full of pictures of only him, and an album of hunting photos. Several show the teen gutting a deer.
Kara's messages to David on MySpace are brief, harmless, seemingly frivolous. She disagrees with his statement that he's a bit overweight. "Very skinny babe..get that through your little head!! heh otay ttyl."
"How is school and crap?" She asks a mutual friend of her and David's. "Mine is really boring..sigh...oh well ttyl."
Her blog talks about soccer, bands she likes, and getting baptized. She posted several pictures that have since been taken down due to the high amount of web traffic the site was receiving.
But perhaps far more disturbing are the messages left by voyeuristic web browsers, who wasted no time offering their take on events.
Under David's blog entry, one user jokes, "I have a bad feeling about this guy, i'd stay away if i were you." Another adds, "You know what inmates do to guys like you?" One girl writes, "U HAVE SERIOUS PROBLEMS U SICK FREAK!!! ON THE NEWS IT SAID U WERE A CHRISTIAN MY ASS U WOULDNT HAVE KILLED HER PARENTS IF U WERE!!!!" A debate on the godliness of Christians follows. The comments grow progressively angrier and more vulgar than can be printed here.
Recent posts included a "Free David" graphic and an invitation to the "David Double Homicide Fan Club."
The comments on Kara's profile arent much better. Many express sympathy and belief in her innocence, but others accuse her of being David's partner in crime, and helping him plan the murder.
Some MySpace users even travelled to the pages of Kara and David's friends, glutting their comment space with hate-filled invective. One friend of Kara's cancelled her account.
"I know you are ALL worried about my best friend Kara and even David," Kara's friend writes on her profile page, "Yes it true what happened, the muder [sic] and abduction - as far as anything else..I am not sure at the moment. I would greatly appriciate it if you ALL stopped messaging me and Kara and even David. Thanks for your prayers -its greatly appriciated! But - the constant overflow of messages is too much on top of all this! Thanks though for caring!"
Another friend reveals far more aggrivation with the flock of rubberneckers visiting her page. "I do NOT know where she is and i have NOTHING to do with her being missing," she writes. "ALL IN ALL, STOP SENDING ME MESSAGES JUST TO ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT KARA. I GOT OVER 65 MESSAGES WITHIN AN HOUR LAST NIGHT AND I ONLY RESPONDED TO THE FIRST 3. SO MORE THAN LIKELY, YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME SENDING ME ONE."
Shortly after Kara's page began to attract attention her profile was set to private (meaning only her friends can access it) and most of its content was taken offline. But not before someone corrected her age to 14.
It's unclear whether authorities are aware of Kara and David's online presence, but it was reported in a local Lancaster, Pennsylvania paper, and investigators have confiscated both teens' computers.
It's not the first time MySpace has had a surreal role in popular news stories. At times it's been a colorful sounding board, other times space for a grim eulogy.
Earlier this summer, Zach Stark, a gay 16-year-old from Bartlett, Tennessee made headlines when he wrote in his MySpace blog about his parents' decision to send him to Camp Refuge, a camp aimed at setting homosexuals straight. Gay rights activists picked up on Zach's blog and rallied to his side, protesting the group running the camp, Love In Action. Earlier this month, a federal judge upheld the State of Tennessee's prosecution of Love In Action for running a mental health facility without a license.
And in September, Mellie Carballo and Maria Pesantez, two teenage New York City college students, died in a well-reported wave of heroin overdoses. Both had MySpace profiles. Friends and strangers visited to leave notes of condolence, as well as a few scathing diatribes against the way heroin use had wasted two young lives. Both girls profiles' contained numerous drug references.
On the MySpace profile of Taylor Behl, 19, a college student allegedly murdered by a web pornographer she had become friendly with, friends and strangers posted pleas for her safe return before police made the gruesome discovery of her body.
While the news may not have a long shelf life, these online profiles do. New messages from friends still appear on Maria's MySpace page every so often. So do spam ads from the clubs she used to frequent. On Taylor's profile, friends relayed condolence letters strangers had sent them. Several MySpace tributes to Taylor's memory have been created. Since returning from Camp refuge, Zach erased his old blog and strangers' comments, but updates readers of his situation. "I miss my old life," he wrote in a recent entry.
Sometimes a MySpace profile is created after a news story takes place. Hoax profiles often appear for celebrities when they arise to the top of the News. The Olsen Twins, for example, have numerous entries pretending to be them on several different networking sites. Kara and David's profiles were not, however, hoaxes.
What does a MySpace profile reveal? And what, if anything, could parents do if they knew about them earlier? If the parents had been aware of the numerous drug references present in Mellie and Maria's profiles, could they have provided them counselling before it was too late? Would Kara's parents have talked to their child earlier, once finding out she was representing herself as a 17 year old who likes to party? Would they have been more aware of David's capacity for violence if they had seen his xanga site?
Hindsight is 20/20. What might look obvious to someone looking back on a profile now, may have seemed innocuous before. But clearly, what MySpace and others like it do provide are windows into the private and complex mind of a teenager. The pages are not always frivolous fun... they may also be a cry for help.
On MySpace, users write headlines above their photo to attract people to their profiles, to show off who they are and sum up how they feel. Kara's headline is eerily ironic and utterly familiar, to anyone who knows the frustrations of being an overprotected teenager.
Kara Borden's headline was "meant X to X live."