By Monica Luhar, India-West, April 19, 2013
Sunil Tripathi, a 22-year-old Indian American undergraduate from Brown University who had been reported missing from his apartment in Providence, Rhode Island, for over a month, was mistakenly identified as one of the suspects connected to this month’s Boston Marathon bombing.
Several social media posts had inaccurately noted that a Boston Police Department scanner had initially identified Tripathi as one of the suspects. A photo later issued by the FBI confirmed that it was 19-year-old Dzhokar Tsarnaev who was considered the “second suspect” in connection with the multiple explosions, and not Tripathi.
NBC News reported that the Boston Marathon bombing suspects were both brothers of Chechen descent: Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed during a shoot-out with police April 19 in Watertown, Mass.; and younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, whom news reports confirmed is still on the run.
The Huffington Post reported that a Reddit moderator titled “FindBostonBombers” had apologized to the Tripathi family for the misidentification.
“I’d like to extend the deepest apologies to the family of Sunil Tripathi for any part we may have had in relaying what has turned out to be faulty information. We cannot begin to know what you’re going through and for that we are truly sorry. Several users, Twitter users, and other sources had heard him identified as the suspect and believed it to be confirmed. We were mistaken,” noted the Reddit post.
Simran Jeet Singh, a Ph.D. student in religion at Columbia University who serves on the advisory board for the Sikh Coalition, explained to India-West that while social media can be a great tool for educating and learning, it can also be a place where inaccurate reports can circulate.
“On the one hand, we see how valuable social media can be a tool for educating and learning and then, on the other hand, we see the dangers of inaccuracies and the sort of violent reaction that can be perpetuated,” Singh told India-West.
On April 19, friends and family members of Sunil Tripathi posted on the official Facebook page, “Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi,” informing the public that Sunil Tripathi was not linked to the Boston Marathon bombings.
A video still released by the FBI April 18 showed a man who was tall and skinny and wearing a black cap, dark jacket and jeans, which appeared to match Sunil Tripathi’s description.
“A tremendous and painful amount of attention has been cast on our beloved Sunil Tripathi in the past 12 hours. We have known unequivocally all along that neither individual suspected as responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings was Sunil,” noted the Facebook post.
“We are grateful to all of you who have followed us on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit—supporting us over the recent hours. Now more than ever our greatest strength comes from your enduring support. We thank all of you who have reached out to our family and ask that you continue to raise awareness and to help us find our gentle, loving, and thoughtful Sunil,” the post added.
Tripathi, best known by close friends and family as “Sunny,” was on leave from Brown University, according to his sister. Other news outlets reported that the Indian American philosophy major had left his wallet, credit cards, and a note in his apartment before his sudden disappearance (I-W, March 25).
“It’s sad but true that our society continues to be haunted by Islamophobia. For the past decade in particular, bigoted individuals and racist groups have been targeting Muslims or people who look like Muslims, whether they are Muslim women in hijabs, Sikhs with turbans, or South Asians with dark skin. The case of Sunil Tripathi exemplifies that, as do the hate crimes that have occurred in the wake of the Boston bombings the last few days,” Singh told India-West. The April 15 Boston Marathon bombing claimed three lives and injured more than 170 individuals.
India-West attempted to reach the Boston Police Department for comments about the Boston bombing and Sunil Tripathi, but did not “have comments at this time.”