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How is Social Media Affecting the Esme Barrera Investigation?

Handmade wanted posters like this one have been posted around campus-area neighborhoods.
Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News
Handmade wanted posters like this one have been posted around campus-area neighborhoods.

The shock and disbelief at Esme Barrera’s murder early New Year’s Day – shared in a stream of social media updates – is giving way to questions about the police investigation.

As the young and vibrant Barrera was friends with dozens, if not hundreds in Austin’s close-knit music scene and beyond (including, I should note, this reporter), the news of her death spread rapidly over Facebook and Twitter.

But while many posts are links to tributes and fundraising initiatives, many others are pointedly questioning the Austin Police Department’s response that morning, and the subsequent manhunt.

An initial police sketch and report disseminated by the University of Texas has been widely circulated online and posted on the streets. But reaction to the news posted by KXAN that no police report was filed on the seemingly-related assault preceding Barrera’s murder until the following afternoon – not to mention the alarmingly brief window (31 minutes) between the assault and the approximate time of Barrera’s murder – has piqued anger in the Facebook comments accompanying the post.

Since the release of the initial police sketch, the flyer has been altered several times. It now includes a similar-looking police sketch of a man wanted on a separate charge of indecent exposure, which a third assault victim the morning of Barrera’s death claims is the same man.

With much of Central Austin on high alert, some are voicing their complaint that tips to APD aren’t being acted upon, as in this Facebook message shared by Domy Books. With so much chatter online, friends of Barrera have created a Facebook group to collect and disseminate information.

Many of the group’s members plan on attending the Heritage Neighborhood Association meeting this Monday, January 9, at the First English Lutheran Church (3001 Whitis Ave.) to discuss policing in the North Campus area where the attacks have occurred. 

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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