Social Media And The Big-Bellied Rapist

In 1992, I met a sports stringer named Bruce Tuck. He was working for the local paper covering games while I was the news director at the radio station.  I didn’t think much about him other than he was socially awkward. Seriously, it would be fair to say I really didn’t think about him at all other than when he was around.

Many things happened yesterday. Some of them infuriating because the community had no information all day from people in positions of authority. The stream of communication on social media networks exploded when local law enforcement agencies said nothing and remember, scanners are funky things. It was just moments after they initially picked him up that we knew his name. When Bruce Tuck’s name started being tossed around, Facebook exploded with men and women trying to figure out what was going on. My cell phone had countless messages with Tuck’s picture sent asking if this was the man who was the Big-Bellied Rapist. Because of the fierce need for answers, local media (myself included although I’m not longer a paid journalist in the area but was asked to help out) tried to bring down some of the, lack of a better term, fever-pitched tension because at that point, we didn’t know what was going on and we’d all been trained for years that the best thing to always do in this situation is not throw gasoline on a fire. The text messages continued, and at that point I realized that this community was trying to, as I called it yesterday, figure out the mystery in good old-fashioned Gus Grissom style because they were afraid and no one was talking.

People needed, craved some sort of answer.

When official word didn’t come down, they created the conversation themselves. The community controlled the story because no one in an official capacity would. (In a side note, I saw Tuck update his Facebook citing he was innocent and the DNA would prove it. Seconds later, his account, which I was listed on as well, disappeared. Of course I went to his Facebook when his name was released. He joined July 16th of this year and had 693 friends which I found to be somewhat odd and suspicious.  This was how everyone had his picture, as do I. I was looking at  his account when he dumped everyone and all of his posts disappeared. I’ve never seen that happen before but I did see it yesterday.)

I admit, in the beginning, I felt horrible for Tuck because no one knew what was going on and his picture was on many emails in the county. I don’t feel so bad about it now, mind you, but during those few hours there had been no arrest.

I was asked by the news editor of the local paper as she was swamped if I wouldn’t mind going out to his house. When I got there, not much was going on, quite frankly. I talked to one of the police, saw his parents looking tired and distraught in the front yard. At that point, Tuck wasn’t there. One of the officers on the scene said no arrests were made. Fair enough.

Digital conversation, fueled by some facts that we found out later and many rumors, escalated. Topix, which is the bane of all websites if you ask me, filled with comments. Facebook conversations became more frequent. Some people said he had been arrested, other folks were saying he had been released. In reality, not a one of us knew what was real and what wasn’t.

My Blackberry box filled up. Still no word. The S.T.O.P. organization implored people not to throw his name around or distribute his photo in case he was innocent. Many of us asked the same thing, but I return to that the social media conversation continued.

Finally, we received word he was “no longer a person of interest” and that was that from an official source given to local media.

An hour later, Tuck was arrested in dramatic fashion, crying into a red towel and then loaded into an ambulance.

This is Hoots guys, everyone in the video is someone we all know arresting a man that we also know. The accused, who if convicted, was a monster in our midst that we all knew. He had asked Squirrel Queen and I both for a job recently. When local reporters used to meet for lunch ever Thursday back in the early 90s, he was always there.  We’d lost sight of him for about 15 years, so I was somewhat surprised to see that he was a former Shelby County Sheriff’s volunteer and that he had even run for a constable position in the past.

I spoke to some of the usual crowd, this time men I know with daughters roughly the age of the victims, and they were furious. The entire community, men and women, needed answers. When they didn’t get them, they began communicating through social media means.

This is an important lesson, I would think.  The community decided to communicate themselves. If Tuck had not been arrested for the crime, his picture from his Facebook account would have still been sent to hundreds, if not thousands, of cell phones across the area.

He was arrested though.

This story took a life of it’s own on. Rumor fueled with facts was what we had for hours.

Ironically, Vibinc used to know this guy as well at a place he used to work. This world is smaller than it ever was.

I’m not here today to condemn an accused man. I will let a judge and a jury of his peers figure it all out. I respect that.

But I’m also glad that many of the women and men I saw last night relieved who are exhausted from this. I’m just glad they caught him, but there is a unique dynamic here that is important to remember.

When nothing came from authorities, the community took the avenue of communicating for themselves. Nor do I blame them. I do see a learning curve here however. Maybe I’m the only one but I think this is important for future investigations.

However, that is said and done. More will be revealed today at a press conference and Shelby County Sheriff Mark Lutrell did fill in some of the details last night.

10 comments for “Social Media And The Big-Bellied Rapist

  1. RickM
    September 3, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Ironically, the police are saying today that it was DNA evidence that made him a suspect.

    I’m glad he’s been captured. The women of your community and mine deserve safety.

  2. September 3, 2009 at 8:38 am


  3. Not Shared
    September 3, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    This bothers me. There have been many cases in history where the public has interfered with comments and questions. These inquiries have helped suspects escape in the past. Accusations in the past have also caused improper suspects and ruined reputations. I am very glad that despite the public curiosity they still managed to get this guy. It is pathetic that local authorities have to lie to the public in order to do their job properly. I know for a fact just how hard the officers were working on this case. They are the ones responsible for catching the evil that may rear it’s evil head in our community, by interfering with text messages and photos sent everywhere, we might have given him a warning to leave town. I realize that the public is curious and scared, but being scared doesn’t mean we have to be ignorant of procedures. The police forces do everything they can to keep our area safe. If you don’t trust them to do their job, get on the force and do it yourself.

    This was not directed towards anyone in general. I also received texts and heard multiple “buzzes” around town. I may not like cops too much, but this is their job and they do it well. They protect us when we cannot protect ourselves. Trust them and let them do their jobs.

  4. September 3, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I don’t disagree with you, Not Shared. Police have to be given the time and the space to do their jobs. I saw those same things.

    The world is changing though. I don’t think this kind of thing with the texts and what not are going away. I think not only is it a learning curve with officials but with the community as well.

  5. Dave
    September 3, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    For the sake of family and friends in Hoots, I’m glad this monster has been caught. It is unfortunate that he is a monster with whom I, you and many others was familiar. It leaves a bad taste in your craw knowing you’ve known someone capable of the horrific crimes for which he’s charged.

    On the matter of texts, social networking sites and the spread of information: we cannot allow this to be controlled. In recent middle eastern uprises, it was the only way the world knew about what was really going on and conversely, text messaging has been used to confuse and demoralize the enemy.

    Free speech must be protected, but you still can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre.

    Seems to me the police department’s public information department just became more important than ever.

  6. September 3, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    You write as though you seem to think this some new phenomenon, the “community taking it upon themselves to communicate what’s happening”. Not at all.

    This has been happening since forever. It’s only the technology that’s enable much swifter and more accurate sharing of information. Used to be, you’d have to burn up the phone lines calling people to see who knew what. There would be thousands of conversations across the community as people talked, bit by bit, sharing in broken and piecemeal fashion whateve they knew. Data would be corrupted by word of mouth passed through dozens and hundreds of mouths.

    The police face a whole different problem: lawyers. Any inaccurate information can damage a case or be cause for a lawsuit, or a threat of one. They have to watch what they say, and good for that! Better not knowing until they can state facts than a lot of “Well, the police said this.” misinformation being passed around that tech-enhanced communication web.

    It’s what Mark Twain said a century ago, paraphrased. “Rumor and misinformation can travel half-way round the world before the Truth can get its boots on.” The only thing different these days is speed and reach.

  7. September 4, 2009 at 7:02 am

    Dave and Mike, both of you are on target here. People HAVE talked from the beginning of time about this sort of thing. The one thing I noticed in my community is that within an hour, everyone had Tuck’s picture on their cell phones. As we don’t have the crime, thank goodness, of Memphis or Nashville per se, prior to his arrest, this was different than other crimes we’ve had in the past.

    Speed and reach, well said. That’s exactly what happened.

Comments are closed.