After he went missing, siblings, parents, relatives and classmates gathered at a university house from near and far to collect information, trace his steps, put the clues together and try to bring him home. Yet the social media platforms on which an outpouring of support for the family was generated soon became conduits of tremendously hurtful — and false — allegations that Tripathi was a Boston Marathon bombing suspect.
The virtual mob mentality that erupted on Reddit and other Internet platforms was the culmination of crowdsourced investigating that law enforcement authorities initially encouraged. However, the results of the mass misidentification proved a witch hunt that sought to implicate Tripathi in the two explosions in Boston that killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
At the family home in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, his sister, Sangeeta Tripathi, received 58 missed calls from 3:00 to 4:00 that eerie night, her phone buzzing nonstop on the hardwood floor.
Relentless reporters, from The Associated Press to CNN, were calling for more information about her brother. And little did they know that the Tripathi family — unfairly targeted by overzealous digital sleuths and a finger-pointing bandwagon — was going through a horribly tragic month that turned into a “night out of hell,” as Judy Tripathi, Sunil Tripathi’s mother, described it.
“At the beginning of his junior year, school started to be really hard for him,” says his sister in the documentary. “And that’s not him.” He was lacking enthusiasm and seemed to have lost his sense of purpose. She says he began to care less about playing music, which was one of his passions. “It’s hard because you’re watching somebody struggle and you just want to fix it.”
Her mom says, “I was really worried … He could not go back to school … He said to me at one point, ‘I can’t sleep. I lay in bed, and all I do is think and think … and I can’t stop thinking.’” The family tried intervening, pushing him toward counseling. However, he wasn’t interested in seeking professional help for his depression.
“This was always the worst nightmare that we never really wanted to talk about with each other,” says Akhil Tripathi, Sunil Tripathi’s father.
“Every day that there was no news came with a roller coaster of emotions, from being very hopeful that no news was good news to just being very frightened that no news meant that we were still there and that we were still looking.”