Police found 21-year-old Brandon Clark at the end of a dead-end road, on the ground next to a black SUV, officials said. He stabbed himself in the neck with a knife as an officer approached him. Then, police say, Clark moved to a tarp where a teen’s bloodied body was located. He then took a selfie while lying across her body as the officer watched, police say.
Bianca Devins, the victim, was 17.
Police arrived at the gruesome scene Sunday morning, alerted by frantic calls from users on the messaging app Discord. What police heard in those calls was horrifying: Someone had uploaded an image of a bloodied, lifeless young woman to the server, her throat marred by a deep gash.
“You’re gonna have to find somebody else to orbit,” a man wrote, using a term for tracking potential romantic interests online.
Prosecutors charged Clark on Monday night with second-degree murder in Devins’s death, after he received emergency surgery at a nearby hospital.
The horrific killing of the teenager in Utica, N.Y., has drawn headlines, its brutality underscored by its broadcast. It has echoes of the massacre at two mosques in New Zealand this year, which the perpetrator live-streamed on Facebook.
Like the New Zealand suspect, the social media user accused in this incident had marked posts about the violence with a winking reference to a popular YouTube star, writing “Subscribe to PewDiePie,” according to images obtained by The Washington Post. And like the bloodshed in New Zealand, the violence in this case was not only broadcast online — its genesis also appears to have been rooted there.
Photos of the violence and the moments before and after were posted to Discord and what appeared to be Clark’s Instagram account, @yesjuliet. The account shared a photo of a dark road, with the caption, “Here comes hell,” followed by a picture of a woman’s bloodied upper torso. Images of the posts on that account suggested it was owned by Brandon Andrew Clark.
“I am sorry Bianca,” one caption read.
A Utica police spokesman, Sgt. Michael Curley, confirmed the authenticity of the post.
Adding to the toxic online cloud, rumors, hoaxes and other misinformation about the case spread like wildfire as people on social media published misleading facts, made impostor accounts and teased sending the grisly photos in apparent bids to get more followers. Devins’s account, which had about 2,500 followers Sunday, had shot up to more than 80,000 by Monday night.
Devins’s killing highlighted long-standing questions about the ability and willingness of technology companies to regulate the content that makes their services so profitable.
Instagram struggled to remove the images from its service Monday, as more and more copies were posted. Some users were so frustrated by the company’s inability to police itself that they tagged and reported the users posting the images themselves. Others flooded the hashtag of Devins’s username with cheery pictures of hearts and animals to overwhelm the number of photos of her killing, making it less likely that they would surface when someone searched her name.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, did not answer questions about how long the violent content remained on its site after it was initially posted under the @yesjuliet account. Spokeswoman Stephanie Otway said that Instagram was working with investigators and that it removed the suspect’s Instagram and Facebook accounts after his identity was confirmed. She said it continued to remove problematic material related to the killing, including posts that expressed support for the death.
Discord expressed regrets in a statement sent by spokesman Will DeGirolamo.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened by this terrible situation,” it said. “In the meantime, our hearts go out to Bianca’s family and loved ones.”
Police said Clark met Devins on Instagram and eventually grew to know each other and their families in person. Police said they had a romantic relationship.
Clark and Devins went to a concert Saturday in New York City, about four hours south of Utica. Police said they got into an argument at the venue, but did not elaborate. Clark and Devins departed for the drive back to Utica after 10 p.m., eventually making their way to the dead-end road where Clark was found with Devins’s body, police said.
“The argument progressed until the male produced a large, black handled knife, and used this to inflict the injuries that caused her death,” the police said in a statement.
Devins’s family, in a statement, described her as a “talented artist, a loving sister, daughter, and cousin, and a wonderful young girl, taken from us all too soon.” They said she had just graduated from high school and planned to attend Mohawk Valley Community College in the fall.
On Tuesday, Devins’s family had to clarify in a second statement sent to multiple reporters that they had not set up a fundraising or crowdfunding drive in her name. “There are some fund-raising sites that have been put up on the internet purporting to be raising funds for Bianca and these are not legitimate sites,” the statement read.
The family plans on setting up a donation drive for a scholarship in Devins’s name in the future.