Citrus County Serial Killer Hoax Causes Social Media Frenzy
Residents of Citrus County, Florida can take a deep breath - August 2014 web-based rumors of a suspected "serial killer enthusiast" running rampant in the area appear to have been cut from whole cloth.
We've been receiving a volume
of emails concerning this localized rumor, and it seems the local police have been dealing with a spike in public inquiry as well.
The hoax appears to stem solely from a single website, one that boasts the following breathless headline:
"LOCAL CITRUS COUNTY RESIDENT QUESTIONED IN CONNECTION WITH 15 MURDERS IN CITRUS COUNTY AND IS SUSPECTED OF OTHER MURDERS IN OTHER COUNTIES AND 4 OTHER STATES"
The site goes on to make several claims, alleging a man named "Matthew Ellis," 22, is suspected by police to be connected with a large number of murders both inside Citrus County and elsewhere. One of the first clues that the information is less than trustworthy can be gleaned from this snippet:
Mr. Ellis was brought to the attention of [police] after the abduction of 17 year old Melissa O'Brien ... witnesses saw a late 90's black Jeep Cherokee with a blue stripe down the side [as well] as a lift kit and a brush guard[.] After the description of the vehicle was released to the public[,] numerous people contacted the Citrus County Sheriff's Office reporting Mr. Ellis. Citrus County Task Force detectives went to the suspect's residence and asked if Mr. Ellis would let them search his property and vehicle and if [he] would come in for questioning[.] Mr. Ellis told authorities they couldn't search his [property] or vehicle without a warrant and until they had one he wasn't coming in for questioning either.
The page continues on at some length, riddled with errors and rife with sourceless claims regarding reports of unsolved murders in Citrus County. On 19 August 2014, the Citrus County Sheriff's Office took to Facebook to address the rumor directly, posting the following status:
As with any serious allegation, police in Citrus County are investigating to determine the precise source of the rumor. Currently, no evidence has emerged to suggest any of the individuals mentioned in the viral claim are victims or suspects in any investigations, solved or unsolved.