In the search for two Tri-State missing persons, contrasting pictures of social media's role emerge

CINCINNATI - Brogan Dulle, 21, went missing Sunday around 2 a.m.

That's when authorities say he left his McMillan Street apartment to try and find his cellphone after spending the evening at The St. Clair and Mac’s Pizza near the University of Cincinnati campus.

Since then, the #HelpFindBrogan hashtag has been trending on Twitter and Facebook. Twitter users — including UC President Santa Ono — have changed their avatars to Dulle’s face, and missing persons notices about Dulle have spread across social media.

More than 7,000 people have joined the "Help find Brogan Dulle" Facebook group and are using it as a platform for support and search efforts.

Betsy Dulle tweeted to WCPO: "Help get the word out about my missing brother! Please RT this." It was retweeted about 300 times in 24 hours.

No hashtag for Edyn

In Fort Thomas, law enforcement began looking for Edyn Nicole Palmer , 16, the same day. Officers said in terms of that the teen, located in the overnight hours on Sunday, May 25,they also posted her information on social media after her initial disappearance.

“Sometimes that can give you a lead or a clue for investigators,” said Fort Thomas Police Lieutenant Richard Whitford.

Minors or runaways will often go onto social media to post about their activities, which can give law enforcement an idea of where they are, Whitford said.

The Fort Thomas police said the department considered Palmer a runaway. Palmer’s mother, Kelly Culver told WCPO: “This is way more complicated than just a simple runaway situation, this a child with critical medical needs that require daily medication.”

Culver reported Palmer’s case to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and printed out flyers to get the word out before her daughter returned home.

“They have been distributed in Northern Kentucky and also in Cincinnati,” Culver said. “Also my mother lives in Florida, so they are being distributed in Florida.”

Culver posted the details of Palmer’s disappearance on her own personal Facebook page, but did not have a Facebook group or Twitter presence surrounding the disappearance that Dulle's case does.

While Jeff Ruby, Todd Frazier and Nick Lachey are amongst the more famous Tri-State residents spreading the word about Dulle via social media, Palmer's case had not attracted such high-profile attention.

Local businesses join Dulle effort

Gilpin's Steamed Grub, a restaurant in Clifton, has become a home base of sorts for search efforts and is also posting messages on Facebook about finding Dulle. Hundreds of Instagram posts have also been tagged with the #HelpFindBrogan hashtag.

American Island Co.’s Facebook page  is posting messages about finding Dulle.

“There’s info on there for needs for the volunteers and the search,” said Alison Yunker, a classmate of Dulle’s at Turpin High School and vice president of local clothing brand American Island Co.

“My brother and I, we are both Turpin Spartans and so are Brogan and his entire family as well,” Yunker said. “We thought anyway we could get the word out there we would. We could use the American Island social media to get the word out there and get the face out there.”

Yunker spent Tuesday night in Clifton canvassing and passing out fliers. Anyone looking for information can go to the Facebook group or go to the Support Efforts for Brogan Dulle GoFundMe page , which raised more than $6,050 in just one day.

There was no crowdfunding campaign for Palmer.

Social media "priceless" in hunt for missing

Supporters of the efforts to find Dulle are on to something, because local law enforcement say that "social media is a critical component" in law enforcement.

Captain Paul Neudigate, a District Five commander with the Cincinnati Police Department, uses social networks like Twitter and Nixle.com to release information on missing persons, wanted persons and persons of interest.

"I use Nixle, I use Twitter to get that info out there, it gets out to those people who I'm linked to on Nixle and Twitter and they push it out to the media outlets," Neudigate said. "The more eyes we can get on it, the greater chance of success we can have."

Insight from officials with the Hamilton County Sheriff's office echoes Neudigate's sentiments.

"It is priceless having the ability to get information out to the public literally within seconds, whether that's about a suspect wanted, a major crash closing a highway, but particularly in a missing person situation," said Michael Robison, director of media and public relations, in an email. "In some cases every second, minute or hour can make a difference." 

This means that a tweet or Facebook post can be a game-changer for law enforcement.

"By sharing a Facebook post, re-tweeting our tweet on Twitter, forwarding photos and key information is a way you can do your part in helping us reach thousands, even millions of people we may not have reached previously," Robison wrote. "All it takes is reaching that one individual who know something and contacts us to get a dangerous

criminal off the street or return a missing person to their loved ones." 

At a press conference, Cincinnati Police Lt. James Whalen said he thinks social media is helping with the search for Dulle and some of the most valuable evidence in his case came from someone who heard about it through media and social media.

Experts: Seize social media opportunities

Representatives with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children aren’t surprised to hear the families aggressively using social media are getting more response than those who don’t have the same resources.

“We want to seize every one of the opportunity to communicate information about the children,” said Robert Lowery, vice president of the Missing Children division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Missing kids are being found faster than before, Lowery said, and this is probably partially due to social media.

“We had an infant taken about a week ago, and the agency we were working with did a Facebook posting for a search of this child,” Lowery said. “Within hours there were 100,000 impressions where someone has looked at the child and it helped us discover the infant very quickly.”

  • Families who are unsure of how to get the word out on social media can call representatives at 1-800-The-Lost to help get them get started.

“It has really grown to a presence now that we think families should really strongly consider that when trying to seek information about the kid,” Lowery said. “We think families would do a great service to themselves if they’re using social media to try and find their kids.”

It is important for families of missing children to also use social media to remind them that they are loved and wanted, Lowery said, because sometimes captors will tell the children otherwise.

Connect with WCPO Community Manager Libby Cunnigham on Twitter: @WCPOLibby .

 

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