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Online speculation distressing for family of missing Langley woman, not helpful to investigation: police

Last Updated Sep 8, 2021 at 6:06 pm PDT

(Image Credit: CityNews)

Naomi Onotera was last seen leaving her home near 200 Street and 50 Avenue last Saturday

One Facebook group has helped coordinate community searches, rumours swirling online are distressing for family

LANGLEY (NEWS 1130) — As the community and Mounties continue to search for Naomi Onotera, who has been missing for nearly a week, people are being urged to consider how online speculation can be damaging to the investigation and distressing for the family.

Soon after a Facebook page was started to help people organize community searches and print out posters, an administrator — who knows what it’s like to have a loved one disappear — had to start telling people to stop posting theories or accusations.

RELATED: Community search for missing Langley woman gets help from Trina Hunt’s family

A statement posted to that page Friday night, apparently from Onotera’s family, says the schoolteacher is “immensely” missed, and thanks the people who have pitched in with the search.

“Thank you does not begin to express our deep gratitude for the outpouring of support that we’ve received since the news of Naomi’s disappearance. We are overwhelmed by all the ways we have felt cared for, supported, and seen. So many of you have spent endless hours searching the streets, trails and sharing her poster,” it says.

“For all the prayers, the messages, and those who’ve shown up to help in any way they can, our sincerest thanks from the bottom of our hearts. In such a terribly hard time, we could not feel more cared for by our community. Thank you for respecting our family during this incredibly emotional time.”

But while this one online group shut down speculation, there are a lot of places online where complete strangers can post things without considering the impact it will have on the people who know and love Onotera.

The host of the Vancouver True Crime podcast says missing persons cases tend to generate a lot of chatter among armchair amateur sleuths. He says it’s important to have boundaries and show respect when talking about active investigations and cold cases.

“I think we’re all fascinated by things that we can’t make sense of,” explains Marc Devereaux.

“People behind the keyboard — everyone has a theory, everyone wants to play detective. The [true crime] genre has books seem to become more popular in the last few years and, and there’s a lot of prominent people online that talk a lot about specifically about missing people.”

He notes that was certainly the case with Port Moody’s Trina Hunt, who was missing for months before the search ended in tragedy when she was found dead.

“There was a lot of message boards and everyone had a theory.”

He’s seeing the same thing happening around Onotera’s case, with rumours swirling.

“In a crisis, where a family member is missing, the last thing they need is allegations being made or anything that could cause more hurt or harm rather than focusing the efforts of trying to locate the person,” he says.

“If you actually have real information that is valuable, then of course you should contact the police and do it through appropriate channels instead of airing it out on a message board or a Facebook group.”

RELATED: Search intensifies for missing Langley mother, teacher Naomi Onotera

The Langley RCMP have asked people to give any relevant information to the police, reminding everyone that the investigation is ongoing and no suspect has been identified.

Onotera was last seen leaving her home near 200 Street and 50 Avenue last Saturday. Police have appealed to people who live in the area, or who were driving through for any security or dashcam footage captured between 6 p.m. on Aug. 28 and 7 a.m. on Aug. 29.

Corp. Holly Largy told NEWS 1130 Thursday that Onotera’s disappearance is “extremely concerning,” and completely out of character. She understands why people are paying attention to the case and helping with the search, but wants people to stop repeating or spreading rumours and allegations online.

“We’re trying to conduct an investigation where we interview people, and oftentimes what happens is people will read something, and then sort of take it on as their own memory as opposed to drawing from what they actually know,” she tells NEWS 1130 Thursday.

“It can just really damage an investigation. We’d like to encourage people to refrain from commenting on social media. Words of encouragement to the family are much appreciated, obviously, but any accusations that are being thrown around out there just caused distress.”