(by Mike Hager, The Vancouver Sun)
A Burnaby man is angry and searching for answers after an online witch hunt wrongly accused him of killing 18-year-old Jamie Kehoe this past weekend.
Garnet Ford began receiving death threats Sunday afternoon after someone identified him on Facebook as the person who fatally stabbed Kehoe, who was trying to stop a fight on the Newton bus Friday night.
A picture of Ford spliced with a portrait of Kehoe was circulated on Facebook along with the accusation.
By Wednesday, the 26-year-old mixed martial artist said he had received more than 15 threats, some on his life, and lost both a fighting sponsorship and his job as a roofer.
“Why me? I’d love to find out,” Garnet said in an interview. “You’re ruining my friggin’ life — I have an eight-months-pregnant wife at home. I have a four-year-old son at home.
“As it stands right now, I’m not making any money and I have no money coming in — I lost my job because of this.”
Desperate to clear his name Ford turned to the police for help.
He talked to the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team on Tuesday and investigators issued a news release Wednesday exonerating him.
“Garnet Ford has been ruled out as a suspect in Jamie Kehoe’s homicide,” the release said.
“To call someone a murderer without the evidence to support it poses problems for investigators and the innocent people being blamed,” said IHIT spokeswoman Sgt. Jennifer Pound in the release. “The public need to focus on letting the police lead the investigation by facts and bringing those responsible for this tragic death to justice.”
Ford doesn’t think his online attackers knew about his previous conviction for an assault, but they did know he was black and tall, which matched the description of Kehoe’s attacker given out by police.
Racist witch hunt begins
Jamie’s uncle, Trevor Kehoe, said he was sitting at home on Sunday when he heard the name of the alleged suspect had been released.
“My girlfriend came running in and said, ‘Somebody said the guy’s name is Garrett Ford and I used to live in a duplex with a guy named Garnet Ford and he’s 6-foot-2 and black.’”
Kehoe got Ford’s sister’s phone number and called her. “I threw some bad slander at his sister,” Kehoe said. “I used the n-word … I was just really emotional at the time.”
After the heated argument, Kehoe said he forwarded a photo of Ford to his brother Jay, the slain teen’s father. He thought the photo could be passed on to Jamie’s friend — who was present during the stabbing — to possibly identify the attacker.
Ford soon began receiving the threatening Facebook messages, of which 90 per cent had overtly racist language, Ford said.
“I understand you guys are upset and are mourning, but don’t be a bonehead,” Ford said. “Use your mind first and think about the person.”
He said he deleted most of them, but has hired a lawyer and is now in contact with Facebook to recover the messages and deal with the threats.
Ford has no quarrel with social media being used to identify the Stanley Cup rioters, but said his case is different from those who created mayhem the night of June 15.
“[The police are] encouraging people to … ‘out’ your friends,” Ford said. “The thing is, when these people were picking out my face, none of them were my friends. They don’t know me.”
Clinical psychologist Joti Samra said the same feeling of anonymity that emboldens rioters to do stupid things they normally wouldn’t also leads people to crucify others online.
“They get into this mob mentality and you can see the same kind of thing happening on social media,” Samra said. “There’s this onslaught of individuals making accusations and people just jump on the bandwagon.
“People just feel less responsible and engage in reckless behaviour — and in this case slanderous behaviour.
“They’re adding fuel to the fire when they have none of the info they would otherwise need to make a [thoughtful] decision.”
Ford was at home at the time of Kehoe’s death playing poker with two close friends and his wife, but said he is normally in bed by 10 p.m. because of his morning training regimen.
It’s ironic that an MMA fighter trained to control his potentially deadly movements would be accused of stabbing someone, Ford said.
“I never hit someone outside of the gym,” Ford said. “I’m not allowed to. If my coach knew I hit someone … I’d be tossed out of my gym.
“I feel sorry for the guy I’m fighting next Friday because I have a lot of bad anger that he’s going to have to deal with.”
That anger has got Ford in trouble in the past. He was convicted of assault and sentenced to two years in prison for a fight “over a girl.”
“Yes, I have been guilty of crimes before,” Ford said. “I got sentenced two years after those charges, and in those two years I really turned my life around.”
He said it taught him a valuable lesson about taking responsibility for his actions.
A lesson he hopes all those Facebook users who threatened him have now learned.
“Think before you hit the key.”
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