The internet is a convenient forum to meet and exchange views with people from all over the world. Formless personalities and voices hooking up – seemingly at random – and forming bonds; be they casual, or intense, or even sexual. It is also a great place to disguise who you really are, to role play your fantasies and thereby feel king for a day. The danger occurs when your self-created avatar takes you over – and those you interact with. When the fantasy world you have created becomes more real than the real one. When belief – and even logic – remains suspended in a continuum you are powerless to extricate yourself from. In most cases, when the truth is finally revealed, what gets hurt is your ego and your feelings; accompanied by a sense of betrayal. But sometimes the consequences can be painfully tragic; even fatal.
He was an 18-year-old Marine, from Buffalo, NY, headed to Iraq and the perils of war. She was an attractive young woman sending him off with pictures and lingerie. At least, that was the perception.
In reality, they were two middle-aged people carrying on an internet fantasy, based on seemingly harmless lies. Then their cyber romance enlarged into a love triangle, when an unsuspecting 22-year-old was drawn in. That is when their cyber escape turned deadly – literally.
When Brian Barrett, a 22 year-old aspiring industrial arts teacher was shot to death on September 15 outside the factory where he worked to help pay for college, the police and his family were stumped. It became apparent that this was no random shooting. Barrett had clearly been targeted. He was shot three times at close range in the neck and left arm. His body was found two days later when a co-worker spotted his pickup in an isolated part of the company parking lot.
On November 27, Barrett’s 47-year-old co-worker and friend, Thomas Montgomery, was charged with Barrett’s murder. The motive, investigators said, was jealousy over Barrett’s budding internet relationship with the same 18-year-old woman Montgomery had been wooing since the previous year. What neither man knew was that the woman was really a 40-something West Virginia mother using her daughter’s identity to attract internet suitors.
For a time, Montgomery and the woman communicated strictly through chat rooms and e-mail. Then the woman began sending gifts to Montgomery’s home. His wife intercepted one of the packages and wrote back to the woman “Tom’s not 18, he’s married and he’s a father of two. He’s 47 and I’m his wife.” And, believing she was writing to an 18-year-old, she added “You’ve obviously been fooled.”
The duped woman remembered a friend named Brian, whom Montgomery had mentioned. She tracked him down and contacted him. They started chatting regularly. When Barrett unwittingly disclosed his budding romance with the woman – whom they both believed to be a teenager – to Montgomery, he signed his own death warrant. Montgomery’s jealousy started festering – and eventually exploded; resulting in the murder.
The above is an extreme example of the dangers of cyber relationships. However, there must be countless instances where the consequences may not have been so fatal, but extremely painful nonetheless. Folks would do well to keep in mind that is – all said and done – a fantasy world out there on the Ethernet. Don’t make it too personal.