After a brutal attack on a gay couple last week that left both victims hospitalized and one in need of facial surgery, Philadelphia police were left with only grainy surveillance footage to identify the group of attackers. They released the video to the public to help ID the men and women, described as clean cut, 20-somethings — one of whom was wearing an orange sweater vest.
You can see the sweater vest and more of the wardrobe choices of some of the alleged attackers in the photo above, thanks to the efforts of social media detectives — including former Real Housewives of New Jersey cast member Greg Bennett and a Twitter user identified only as @FanSince09.
Melody Kramer of NPR’s Storify and Gawker both have the full (riveting) play-by-play of what happened next, but here is the gist: At 5:41 p.m. on Tuesday, Bennett tweeted this restaurant photo, which he said he received from a “friend of a friend of a friend,” and called out the similarities to the police footage.
Within about 2 hours, Philadelphia personality @FanSince09 had retweeted the police surveillance video, his followers helped him identify the restaurant setting and he used Facebook’s Graph Search to track down a number of the subjects through their own check-ins, photo tagging and, of course, clothing.
Philadelphia police officer Joseph Murray was quick to praise the social sleuthing efforts:
This is how Twitter is supposed to work for cops. I will take a couple thousand Twitter detectives over any one real detective any day.
— Joseph Murray (@PPDJoeMurray) September 17, 2014
He later clarified that no arrests had been made, as the department had to follow up on the massive tip and this case was “not a Law and Order episode.” Several of the suspects have since come in for questioning and are mounting a self-defense case.
It may not be TV, but it is no less fascinating and heartwarming to watch a story like this unfold. Social media detectives don’t get it right every time, but it’s amazing to see how quickly things can get done when we all put our heads together.