All my life, I’ve been told to be safe on the internet. My parents had always been wary of social media, and as a result, so was I. I tried to remain as anonymous as possible on any social website that I used. I never used my real name, and I didn’t really use them as a way to make new friends. The only friends I had on these sites were the ones who knew me in real life, and they knew to keep my real name off of their comments, posts, etc.
But then I started using Twitch. I started out only watching the streamers playing the games that I was interested in at the time. I wouldn’t ever chat or anything, just watch.
One day, though, I found a streamer who was just too great to pass up chatting with. He seemed like a really chill guy, and his community was very nice and welcoming. I quickly made friends with everyone, namely a girl whose username was RoseHillRoad.
She and I had clicked instantly. While most of the others only talked with me on Twitch or Twitter, RoseHillRoad and I began talking on other social media. Our avenue of choice was SnapChat. I was hesitant to give anyone my phone number still, so I felt that this was a safer alternative. In addition, I made sure to disable the map feature on my account before adding her. I took precautions because I had been conditioned all my life to be paranoid.
I learned that her name was Gayle, and that she was around my age. I had been so excited to meet a girl my age, and I began to confide in her many personal details about my life. I was quick to trust her, as she seemed so nice and innocent… not to mention I was a 16-year-old, hormonal boy.
She shared a lot with me too. I learned that she had a horrible home life, and that she was just trying to make it through high school so she could move out of her parents’ house. I remember that conversation distinctly:
-Gayle: my parents are both drunk and arguing again. This is the third night in a row.
-Me: Oh no! I’m so sorry ☹ I wish you didn’t have to deal with that
-Gayle: It’s whatever. I’m used to it by now, but I seriously can’t wait until I can leave
-Me: Yea.. I haven’t even told my parents that I have been talking to people online. They would freak out
-Gayle: tell me about it. My parents would beat my butt if they knew I was talking to “strangers” online.
-Gayle: Idk why though, since they don’t really care about anything else I do.
I remember sympathizing with her, and we would talk late into the night sometimes. We would vent to each other and talk about our aspirations for the future. Soon enough, she and I had begun to see the other as more than friends.
In online spaces we were both a part of, we made it official and told the others. Everyone was happy for us. I remember I had still been hesitant to tell my parents, as they wouldn’t have understood. Either way I was happy, and I decided ultimately not to breathe a word of it to either my mom or dad.
This happiness lasted for all of two months.
You see, Gayle had a secret she was keeping from me. I only found out later, in the worst possible way.
Right from the very start, Gayle had quite a few odd habits whenever we would video chat. I noticed rather quickly that she would only call me during the day, and I remember it often being hard to hear her because she was always in a public setting.
That in and of itself isn’t odd. At first, I figured that she was just really social and liked to be out in public, not to mention she wanted to be as far away from her parents as possible for as long as she could. What was odd, though, was that every few weeks or so, she would stop messaging me abruptly at 6 pm. It never mattered how great the conversation was in the moment, once 6 pm hit, the conversation was over. This would go on for a couple of weeks, then everything would go back to normal.
I began to grow concerned, because, as I said before, she told me about her terrible home life. I was concerned that she was being abused, or perhaps she had to play parent for the adults in her life. I wanted nothing more than to rescue her from her situation, but what can a 16-year-old do, exactly?
Then, the paranoid thoughts began to slip in. What if she was cheating on me? What if she was talking to someone else and starting to lose interest in me? At first, I kept those fears to myself; I wouldn’t react to prolonged silences from her. Eventually, though, and especially during the last week before my world came crashing down around me, I began to send message after message.
It was unhealthy on my end. I know that. But some gut feeling was forcing me to try and make contact. I would message after 6 pm, but I wouldn’t get a response until the next morning.
At some point, she stopped responding. I hadn’t heard from her in over a week, and she hadn’t been showing up to the streams in which we would normally hang out. I was worried, upset, angry, and altogether sure she had dumped me in the most humiliating way possible.
A full two weeks later, I heard my text notifications going off. I had been reading a book, attempting to cope with my sadness, and merely glanced at my phone. I did a double take when I saw that the notifications were from Gayle.
I all but flung my book across the room to grab my phone, ready to be either really mad or really relieved that she was okay.
I ended up feeling neither.
When I opened the messages, I saw that they were a thread of threats and swears, all directed at me:
-Hey you f*cker, I know you’ve been talking to my girl
-Don’t f*cking ignore me, either.
-I got something to show you.
I was shaking and confused. I was about to respond with an equally ugly text, ready to tear into Gayle for what appeared to be a horrid prank she was playing on me.
I didn’t get a chance to. The next message I got from Gayle’s snapchat was the most disgusting image I had ever seen. It was Gayle, I could tell, if only barely. Her face had been shredded almost beyond recognition, and the parts that were familiar were swollen and beginning to turn an ugly blue-black bruise color.
-See, this is what she gets for going behind my back. She was mine. The b*tch deserved everything she got.
More and more images flooded in of her mangled body. I wasn’t even sure if she was alive. He never sent a video. All I received, over and over again, were still images, each one brutal and terrifying. I was frozen out of fear and concern for the girl I had grown to love.
Instead of responding, I merely called the police. I didn’t know what else to do. I was too terrified to respond. Looking back, I wish I had done more; I feel like such a coward. But of course, in the panicked state that I was in, I did everything that I was capable of in that moment.
When police showed up, they questioned me for what seemed like days. They asked to see my conversation with Gayle, but since it was Snapchat, there was no record of our conversation. Then, when I felt like I had no more hope, one officer who was privy to the social media app suggested we check the snapchat map.
I knew she had had her location disabled in the past, so I didn’t think this would lead anywhere. I said as much as I halfheartedly pulled up the map. To my utter surprise, when I zoomed out, I saw her all-too-familiar Bitmoji. Her location had been updated merely 5 minutes ago.
Absolutely speechless and dumbfounded, I handed my phone to the officer, who quickly set about sending officers to that location.
At this point my body was completely numb. I was going to find out if this had all been some sick joke, or if the girl with whom I had shared so much of myself was gone… in the most brutal way I could think of.
I obviously wasn’t allowed to go to the location, for my own safety. I was sick with worry, and hadn’t slept all night. My mind kept coming up with scenarios, each one worse than the last, about what the officers would find.
I had so many unanswered questions. Who was this guy? Was Gayle really cheating on me?
As all of these thoughts raced through my mind, I must have completely zoned out. All of the sudden I was jolted out of my own thoughts by the shrill sound of my phone ringing. I jumped at it, not even looking to see who was calling.
“Hello, I am looking for Joshua? I’m calling from the Richardson PD.”
“Yes, this is him. Have you found anything?”
“Yes sir, but we need you to come to hospital in the next town over. We have some more questions for you.”
Perplexed, I quickly made my way to the hospital. My parents had to take me, and I could tell they wanted to yell at me but could see how stressed I already was. It was 4 in the morning. I would probably be mad too.
Once we got there, we were met at the front desk by two police officers.
“I’m assuming you’re Joshua. Follow me.”
Without another word, he led me down a long hallway, my parents in tow. We came to a door at the very end, and the officer ushered me inside but told my parents to wait outside the door.
I stepped into a patient’s room. At first I was confused, the whole situation not registering with me. Then I saw her. Gayle.
She was hooked up to countless tubes, but I was placated when I realized that her heart monitor showed a strong heartbeat. The wave of utter relief that I felt nearly caused me to faint. I almost didn’t hear the officer.