A student at Brown University named Sunil Tripathi vanished in Providence, Rhode Island, on March 16, 2013. When he was mistakenly named as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, his disappearance sparked a massive search effort and his story went viral. Tripathi’s body was found in the Providence River on April 23, 2013 and the reason was suicide.
Early Life and Education
On August 14, 1990, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Sunil Tripathi was born. His parents, Judy and Akhil Tripathi, arrived in the country as immigrants from India in the 1970s.
Sunil was raised in Radnor, Pennsylvania, and went to Radnor High School, where he participated in debate club and the cross-country team.
He enrolled at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, after finishing high school and studied philosophy and literature there.
The Disappearance of Sunil Tripathi
Sunil Tripathi vanished from his Providence, Rhode Island, apartment on March 16, 2013. His roommates last saw him, and when he didn’t come home, they filed a missing person report. Hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officers searched the area around him after he vanished, sparking a massive search operation.
Tripathi went missing for several weeks despite intensive search efforts. In order to spread the word about his disappearance, his family and friends started a social media campaign.
Misidentification during the Boston Marathon Bombing
Three people were killed and numerous others were hurt when two bombs detonated at the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013. Following the incident, police issued photos of two suspects who were later recognized as brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Just one day after the tragic incident, on April 16, 2013, Reddit users started a special subreddit to collect information and identify potential suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. In order to aid law enforcement in cracking the case, the subreddit aimed to compile all pertinent information about the bombings.
Reddit users started to make assumptions about Sunil Tripathi being one of the suspects on April 18. The rumor was based on a blurry image of one of the suspects that some users thought might be Tripathi.
A woman who claimed to be Tripathi’s classmate posted on Twitter that she also thought Tripathi looked like one of the suspects in the FBI’s photos, which furthered rumors that Tripathi was responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing.
The rumor quickly gained popularity on social media, where many users shared it and demanded Tripathi’s arrest.
Although there is no proof connecting Tripathi to the bombing, the theory grew in popularity and was eventually covered by a number of mainstream media outlets. Tripathi was named as a suspect in the bombing on April 19 by CNN and the New York Post, both of which cited unnamed sources. From his personal Twitter account, BuzzFeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski shared a tweet that identified Sunil as the main suspect.
After the photos were made public, people tried to contact the Tripathi family by calling ABC News and posting irate comments on Sunil Tripathi’s Facebook page, which was set up to find him.
Before the FBI discovered that the Tsarnaev brothers were the real suspects, Tripathi quickly rose to the status of “standout suspect” on social media, according to the BBC. On April 23, Sunil was discovered dead.
A body was found floating in the Seekonk River on April 23, 2013, behind the Wyndham Garden Providence Hotel. The identity of the deceased, Sunil Tripathi, was verified using dental records. Authorities came to the conclusion that there was no evidence of wrongdoing even though the cause of his death was initially unknown.
The Legacy of Sunil Tripathi
Despite the tragically early end to Sunil Tripathi’s life, his legacy continues thanks to the Sunil Tripathi Memorial Fund, which was created in his honor. The fund offers financial assistance to Brown University undergraduates pursuing arts and humanities degrees.
Along with the memorial fund, Tripathi’s story served as the basis for the documentary “Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi.” The movie investigates how social media contributed to Tripathi’s disappearance and the mistaken identity in the Boston Marathon bombing.