NEW YORK - Early one morning a few weeks ago, Kara Borden, a 14-year-old from Lititz, Pa., logged onto MySpace. The young, bubbly, blond-haired, brown-eyed homeschooled high school freshman had a profile on the popular networking site.
Her page was brightly colored with pink-lined black boxes listing her friends and hobbies, a rainbow striped white background and a picture of her in a pink top, smiling with lips closed to hide her braces. She listed her interests as soccer, talking on the phone, the beach and partying. "Books are gay," she wrote. She lied about her age, listing it as 17.
A few hours later she allegedly stood by as her boyfriend, David Ludwig, 18, shot and killed her parents.
David was on MySpace, too.
Kara's parents were killed on Nov. 13. Just after noon the next day, police tracked the two teens down in Indiana, capturing them after a high speed chase.
But before that, as the story of the double murder and the two missing teens hit the news, hundreds of curious, savvy Web surfers found Kara and David's MySpace profiles and Xanga blogs. It didn't take long for reporters to begin doing the same thing. A photo used by numerous news Web sites was also from the MySpace profile of Kara's best friend. MSNBC was first to report the teens' interests found listed online.
Next to Kara's profile picture was a quote. "...Cause I need you and I miss you," ostensibly from Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles." A reference to David? Or just a favorite song? Strangers commenting on Kara's MySpace blog perused every little detail.
David's MySpace profile, last visited by him on Nov. 12, offered little to suggest a day later he'd murder two people. Like many other users, he listed his religion, Christian, and his job, product specialist at a Circuit City store. He doesn't smoke, he wrote, but does drink.
Messages left by his friends include one asking if he's "going to help the smiths move on the 12th." Kara leaves a message, happy that he's signed up for MySpace, and asks him to leave a comment on her page. "<3Kara<3", she signs off.
n a Oct. 24 blog entry, David writes about going to see the new Wallace and Gromit movie, and about visiting a college with his parents:
"I did get to go and see Were-Rabbit (the new Wallace and Gromit movie) with a bunch of friends ... I enjoyed the movie even if a bunch of ppl didn't ... lol it did have some crude humor ... but some of it was reeeally funny! lol *wicked grin*
"So yes and now today I shall be doing school and tomorrow I'm going to visit stupid York Tech school complemints [sic] of my loverly parents lol But yes now I must run and do school so ya'll have a good day. God bless!!"
John Harrell / AP file
David Ludwig, seen on his way back to Pennsylvania on Nov. 15, after being arrested in Indiana.
David's Xanga site stated that he enjoyed "soft air gun wars" and "getting into trouble." He provided a link to his pictures. An album full of pictures of only him, and an album of hunting photos. Several show the teen gutting a deer.
Kara's blog talked about soccer, bands she liked, and getting baptized. Her messages to David on MySpace were brief, harmless, seemingly frivolous. She disagreed with his statement that he's a bit overweight. "Very skinny babe ... get that through your little head!! heh otay ttyl."
"How is school and crap?," she asked a mutual friend of her and David's. "Mine is really boring..sigh...oh well ttyl."
Then came the murder.
While public access to Kara's and David's blogs was eventually restricted, it was already too late. Voyeuristic Web users flooded the sites with disturbing messages offering their take on events.
Under David's blog entry, one user jokes, "I have a bad feeling about this guy, i'd stay away if i were you." Another adds, "You know what inmates do to guys like you?" One girl writes, "U HAVE SERIOUS PROBLEMS U SICK FREAK!!! ON THE NEWS IT SAID U WERE A CHRISTIAN MY ASS U WOULDNT HAVE KILLED HER PARENTS IF U WERE!!!!" A debate on the godliness of Christians follows. The comments grow progressively angrier and more vulgar than can be printed here.
Other posts included a "Free David" graphic and an invitation to the "David Double Homicide Fan Club."
Friends' blogs invaded, too
The comments on Kara's profile aren't much better. Many express sympathy and belief in her innocence, but others accuse her of being David's partner in crime, and helping him plan the murder.
Some MySpace users even traveled to the pages of Kara and David's friends, glutting their comment space with hate-filled invective. One friend of Kara's cancelled her account.
"I know you are ALL worried about my best friend Kara and even David," Kara's friend writes on her profile page, "Yes it true what happened, the muder [sic] and abduction - as far as anything else .. I am not sure at the moment. I would greatly appriciate it if you ALL stopped messaging me and Kara and even David. Thanks for your prayers -its greatly appriciated! But - the constant overflow of messages is too much on top of all this! Thanks though for caring!"
Another friend reveals far more aggravation with the flock of rubberneckers visiting her page. "I do NOT know where she is and i have NOTHING to do with her being missing," she writes. "ALL IN ALL, STOP SENDING ME MESSAGES JUST TO ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT KARA. I GOT OVER 65 MESSAGES WITHIN AN HOUR LAST NIGHT AND I ONLY RESPONDED TO THE FIRST 3. SO MORE THAN LIKELY, YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME SENDING ME ONE."
Shortly after Kara's page began to attract attention her profile was set to private (meaning only her friends can access it) and most of its content was taken offline. But not before someone corrected her age to 14.
MySpace and the news
It's not the first time MySpace has had a surreal role in popular news stories. At times it's been a colorful sounding board, at other times space for a grim eulogy.
Earlier this summer, Zach Stark, a gay 16-year-old from Bartlett, Tenn., made headlines when he wrote in his MySpace blog about his parents' decision to send him to Camp Refuge, a camp aimed at setting homosexuals straight. Gay rights activists picked up on Zach's blog and rallied to his side, protesting the group running the camp, Love In Action. Earlier this month, a federal judge upheld the state of Tennessee's prosecution of Love In Action for running a mental health facility without a license.
And in September, New York college students Mellie Carballo and Maria Pesantez died in a well-reported wave of heroin overdoses. Both had MySpace profiles. Friends and strangers visited to leave notes of condolence, as well as a few scathing diatribes against the way heroin use had wasted two young lives. Both girls profiles' contained numerous drug references.
That same month, on the MySpace profile of 19-year-old Taylor Behl, friends and strangers posted pleas for the safe return of the Virginia college student before police made the gruesome discovery of her body.
While the news may not have a long shelf life, these online profiles do. New messages from friends still appear on Maria's MySpace page every so often. So do spam ads from the clubs she used to frequent.
On Taylor's profile, friends relayed condolence letters strangers had sent them. Several MySpace tributes to Taylor's memory have been created. Since returning from Camp Refuge, Zach erased his old blog and the comments from strangers, but still updates readers of his situation. "I miss my old life," he wrote in a recent entry.
Sometimes a MySpace profile is created after a news story takes place. Hoax profiles are often created for celebrities. The Olsen twins, for example, have numerous entries pretending to be them on several different networking sites.
Kara and David's profiles were not hoaxes, however, and have in fact drawn the interest of the authorities investigating the case.
What does a MySpace profile reveal? And what, if anything, could parents do if they knew about them earlier? If the parents had been aware of the numerous drug references present in Mellie and Maria's profiles, could they have provided them counseling before it was too late?
Would Kara's parents have talked to their daughter earlier if they'd known she was representing herself online as a 17-year-old who likes to party? Would they have been more aware of David's capacity for violence if they had seen the pictures on his blog?
Hindsight is 20/20. What might look obvious to someone looking back on a profile now may have seemed innocuous before. But clearly, what MySpace and other social networking sites like it do provide are windows into the private and complex mind of a teenager. The pages are not always frivolous fun — they may also be a cry for help.
On MySpace, users choose their own web page title which attracts people to their profiles, often showing off who they are and how they feel. Kara's headline is eerily ironic and utterly familiar, to anyone who knows the frustrations of feeling like an overprotected teenager.
Kara Borden's headline was "meant to live."