Social media’s role in Queen Creek’s Preston Lord murder case

Bianca Buono
9 Min Read

The 1,000+-page police report was posted on social media with names of witnesses and people who cooperated in Queen Creek’s investigation.

QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. — The police report detailing the investigation into 16-year-old Preston Lord’s death at a Halloween party in 2023 was released at the end of March. Reports like this usually are requeted by attorneys and media organizations.

Somehow this one all 1,000+ pages filled with names, dates and evidence collected ended up on Reddit.

 It wasn’t the first time. Since Lord’s death in October, there have been videos, text posts and other information shared via social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Reddit.

This has become, if not a true crime trend like podcasts, a trend in true crimes. Web sites and social media platforms buzz with people trying to solve the crime or just deeply interested in the case. It drives investigators crazy; Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell castigated Internet sleuths and true crime TikTokkers earlier this year, saying they were doing disservice to a grieving family and an active investigation. Witnesses whose names are now out on the Internet have called police with concerns.

 Joe Grund, a parent of a middle schooler in Gilbert, wasn’t an Internet sleuth. But, in the absence of official information, he got a lot of his information from Reddit. Grund has been a Reddit user for several years and didn’t go looking for information on Lord’s death, but rather stumbled upon it.

“I remember seeing the picture of Preston Lord and thinking ‘my God, that could be my son,’” Grund said. “… in two years, he could be at a Halloween party… it could just as very easily be my kid.”

After reading an article in the Arizona Republic about Lord’s death and the “Gilbert Goons,” a group who has come up throughout investigations into teen violence in the East Valley, Grund said he noticed community members and parents posting online.

“I’m just some dude… I happen to be in Gilbert… I’m nobody,” Grund said. “But I want my voice to be heard too… I want to be a part of the conversation and make sure that this doesn’t get swept under the rug.”

The lack of information from public officials is what Grund believes pushed people to seek out information in online communities.

“In the absence of good information, people will go search for whatever they can find,” Grund said. “The people who are in authority have a duty to the people who live in this town to give us straight answers and to be accountable to the people who live in this town.”

Public officials like Brice have been vocal about the role social media played throughout the case.

Watch the full interview

For some, social media was a way to connect with other community members. Billie Tarascio, a family law attorney with offices across the Valley and in Tucson, first started posting about Lord’s case after reading an Arizona Republic article, and wondering if anyone else was feeling the same way she was.

“I just couldn’t get it out of my mind,” Tarascio said.

In her job, Tarascio said she often creates content about issues her audience cares about, like custody issues or struggles with divorce. But sometimes she will discuss high-profile cases. And in this case, the videos she created about Lord’s death “resonated” with the community.

People began sending Tarascio direct messages – even some who were personally involved, she said.

“It was very interesting to see when you’re getting DMs from multiple sources saying the same thing, and then that is being printed, it really feels like this is more than just rumors,” Tarascio said.

Several witnesses named in the report claim they were supposed to remain anonymous.

In many ways, social media has helped: the police report shows that police received dozens of tips through social media users and some suspects talked about the crime on social media, even confessing to some of their involvement.

The attention the case has garnered on social media has been challenging, as well. There have been reports of “doxing,” where people harass individuals thought to be involved in a case. Public officials have also warned of the dangers of misinformation online.

But Grund said he hasn’t seen the misinformation he has heard public officials warn about.

“There’s a lot of noise, there is,” Grund said. “But there’s also a lot of people you can tell live here and care about it, and have a vested interest in not just making noise, but seeing that the problem gets addressed.”

Tarascio said she too has not seen much misinformation. And the little she has seen has been corrected by other online community members.

“The vast majority of people who are online and who are engaged simply want to invest in their community, they simply want to figure out, how do we support our schools? How do we make sure this never happens?” Tarascio said. “Again, that is the primary motivator of the activists who are showing up online and so to be admonished by those we have elected has not sat well.”

But when the Queen Creek police report showed up on social media sites like Reddit, a different concern arose.

The police report listed countless names of witnesses and people who cooperated in Queen Creek’s investigation — including those who thought they would remain anonymous.

A few people mentioned in the report have contacted police with concerns, Brice said. The redactions that were made or didn’t make the report were all done according to Arizona state law. But Brice said it is a law he hopes to see change.

“We really do think that needs to change. There is a protection in the law for victims. We think that should apply to witnesses as well,” Brice said. “We’re talking to our own elected officials here in town on how we can maybe strategize to go forward to the state legislature… see if we can get that changed.”

Brice said it is the public’s right to request records, but he hopes the people who get those records are responsible with the information contained in them.

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Bianca Buono ,
KPNX Vivrr Local Feed: crime , 2024-04-04 12:10:00
Categories: teen-violence,news,crime,valley,local,home

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