Rumour mongers should think of stricken family
While I realize that most people are just trying to be helpful and careful about posting unsubstantiated rumours online, if one more person e-mails me urgently to see if I will check out yet another rumour about local missing person Donna O'Rielly, I'm going to scream.
O'Rielly went missing on Feb. 26 here in Moncton, the circumstances of which have been publicized far and wide. She left work and disappeared before making it to her car. At least at the time this column was written, she hasn't been found.
This has not been the typical missing person case. With the advent of social media and the new reality that rumours can spread like wildfire, the Internet has been ripe with rumours, innuendo and hurtful comments.
There are e-mails about bodies found in snow banks and other 'scoops.' Some people have even posted 'RIP Donna O'Rielly' on their Facebook status updates after hearing unsubstantiated rumours. Being the first to report it rather than actually being accurate seems to be what is important these days.
Without going into the specifics, I recently received a long and detailed e-mail from a regular reader of this column who told me beyond a shadow of a doubt that she knew what happened. In fact, she went into great detail, even recounting conversations she'd personally had with an eyewitness to everything.
She asked for my help.
The human in me wanted to believe she was right, because this particular rumour had O'Rielly still alive and well.
And, I'm not going to lie to you, the columnist in me certainly wanted it to be true, too, because one of my readers trusted me enough to blow the case wide open and hopefully solve this high-profile mystery.
Since the e-mail arrived very late at night, I decided to wait until the next day to contact the police.
When I called them, they got on the case right away.
I forwarded the e-mail to them, and I found the woman's family members on Facebook. Personally, I didn't know the woman who e-mailed me the apparent first-hand 'confession,' however I'd received a few e-mails from her earlier and she seemed harmless enough.
Within a few hours, the RCMP knocked on the woman's door. I'm sure she nearly fainted with shock when it happened. I mean, what did she expect me to do? Write a big column about the confession and not check out the rumours first with the police?
I don't know exactly what happened at the woman's home, but the police contacted me afterwards to tell me that she admitted to making up the entire story.
They seemed greatly disappointed. Had it been true, the tip could have perhaps led to O'Rielly being found. It appeared to be a strong lead, except that it was a complete hoax.
It boggles my mind why someone would go through all that trouble.
Why contact someone who writes for a newspaper and tell them you know what happened if it wasn't true?
Do you not think I would check out the rumour? Seriously? We learned that on the first day of journalism school, dear.
Obviously, someone who sends an e-mail like this is not thinking of the consequences such allegations could hold.
Did they not think of her family? Did they not think of her friends and co-workers? Did they not think of the general public who've been trying to find her, too?
And finally, did they not think of the precious law enforcement resources that were spent because of this lie?
Don't get me wrong. Any tip is a good tip . . . as long as it's sincere.
But an outright made-up story that you know is a crock? Don't you think people have better things to do? I know that I'd certainly like to get back the three hours of my life I spent taking part in your sick wild goose chase.
Missing person cases bring out the best in most people . . . and the worst in some. The good vibes on a spiritual level that can be attained by the prayers and positive thoughts of people cannot be underestimated.
I believe that they mean something very real -- and, if anything, certainly offer a level of support to the family in at least knowing that they're not alone and that people care.
But the rumours . . . oh the unbelievable number of rumours . . . well, at some point I just want to tell people to keep their traps shut unless they've seen something personally and practically have photographic evidence confirmed by Jesus himself.
The rumour mongers all have a 'friend' who 'knows' what happened. Unfortunately, track the rumour back to its origins and someone seeing a dead squirrel on the street ends up transforming itself into the 'fact' that someone found a body in a snow bank and -- of course -- it must be the person everyone is looking for.
As for me, just to let y'all know, if you have a real tip, by all means call the RCMP and pass it on. If the tip isn't good enough to pass along to the RCMP, don't bother telling me.
That's a lesson I sure learned the hard way. I never thought I'd be taken in by someone lying to my face like that, but I was. Fortunately, the RCMP was there to call her on it.
Let's just say that the purveyor of this hoax likely had to change her granny panties after that visit from the police. Play with fire and you get burned.
Donna O'Rielly's family has been through enough. They don't need a bunch of liars making up stories, too. Whatever happened to her, I hope that the family gets closure soon on this unfathomably difficult time in their lives.
* Brian Cormier is a writer and communications consultant. His column appears on this page every Wednesday. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.briancormier.blogspot.com