The 17-year-old’s death has been shrouded in misinformation and contradictions, trolling, and graphic images of her corpse online
Content warning: This piece discusses graphic violence
In the early hours of Sunday (July 14) morning, photos began to circulate on social media graphically depicting the murder of 17-year-old Instagram star Bianca Devins. The images, captured by her alleged killer, showed the influencer with her throat slit in the passenger seat of a car. Quickly reported by viewers, Utica police in New York confirmed Devins’ death on Monday.
As news of the attack reached the press, hysteria ensued and a variety of conflicting stories began to surface. Some Instagram users claimed to have a video of the murder – even though there isn’t one – which they would share in exchange for likes and follows, while many news outlets, including the Mirror, falsely claimed that Devins’ suspected killer was her boyfriend, and others incorrectly declared the teen was decapitated.
Despite the wealth of inconsistent information online, here we attempt to unpack what really happened, what was posted online, and how social media users have reacted to Devins’ killing.
WHO IS BIANCA DEVINS?
Bianca Devins was a 17-year-old girl from Utica, New York who had a following as an E-girl under the IG handle @escty, and regularly posted on messageboard 4chan. The teen had just graduated from high school and was set to study psychology a local community college in autumn. In a statement, Devins’ family described her as “a talented artist, a loving sister, daughter, and cousin, and a wonderful young girl, taken from us all too soon”.
Devins’ Instagram posts regularly featured webcam selfies adopting E-girl aesthetics – dramatic eyeliner, rainbow-coloured hair, and MySpace-style graphics. Her most recent post was shared just four days ago, with the caption ‘how is everyone doing today’.
WHAT WAS REPORTED AND MISREPORTED?
Following news of her death, speculation about Devins’ relationship to her killer (21-year-old Brandon Andrew Clark) arose, with several different stories emerging in the press.
A statement by Utica police department read: “With respect to their relationship, it was learned that the two had met on the social media platform Instagram approximately two months ago. They utilised this as a means of communication primarily, and their relationship progressed into a personally intimate one. They had spent time together, and were acquainted with each other’s families.” Dazed has reached out to Utica police for comment on how they acquired this information.
Implications that the alleged killer was an obsessed stalker were debunked by the police, who confirmed the pair had attended a concert together on the evening of Devins’ death, with a friend of Devins – a 20-year-old woman called Chels – telling The Daily Dot “he was a friend she knew irl”.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Chels went into further detail, explaining that Devins and Clark knew each other well, but that the relationship was platonic. A screenshot posted to Internet forum Kiwi Farms also confirms reports of Devins’ sister’s comments on Instagram, which read: “it wasn’t just an “internet boyfriend” this was a close family friend whom we’ve met and trusted so much.”
Further misinformation about the murder suggested that Devins had been decapitated, but had in fact had her throat slit, while several Instagram users claimed to have a video of the killing, which they would post on their Stories if others followed their account – the police have confirmed that no such video exists.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?
Both the police and Chels confirm that Devins and Clark attended a concert together on Saturday (July 13) night. The two reportedly met up with another man at the gig, with Rolling Stone detailing that Clark got angry after Devins held hands and kissed this person. Clark and Devins then drove back to Utica alone around 10pm, before the murder was discovered in the early hours of Sunday morning via images shared on social media.
When authorities arrived on the scene – after receiving calls from distressed 4chan and Discord users – Clark began stabbing himself in the neck, before taking a selfie with Devins’ body. Utica police confirmed photos distributed via Instagram and video gaming chat platform Discord were “authentic”.
WHAT WAS SHARED ONLINE?
Images depicting the teen’s murder were first shared at 6:40am, as Clark posted to his Instagram account @yesjuliet (now deleted by the platform) showing Devins’ in his car with her neck cut. The suspected killer then shared a video on his IG Story of him driving down a dark road with the caption: “Here comes Hell. It’s redemption, right?” and changed his bio to “10/06/1997 – 7/14/19. Just know that I feel no pain now”.
Clark also allegedly shared the images on Discord, with the caption: “Sorry fuckers, you’re gonna have to find someone else to orbit.” (Orbiting is when someone interacts with your social media posts in the hope you’ll have sex with them).
Instagram was seemingly slow to react as more and more images of the killing were shared online. The platform has been slammed for allowing the photos to stay online for so long, with some calling out the hypocrisy of IG’s quick censorship rules when it comes to nudity.
can everyone stop being so disgusting all the time???? bianca devins was horrifically murdered by a man she met on discord, it doesn’t matter if she was an e-girl or not, she was still a fucking PERSON. STOP ASKING FOR HER PICTURES, AND STOP SHARING THEM— Sonia (@culiodulio) July 15, 2019
HOW HAVE PEOPLE REACTED?
Most social media users are rightly disgusted by the murder and photos shared online, with some calling out the dangers of incels, while others urge people to understand how online abuse targeted at women can very easily turn into IRL violence.
However, there are also disturbing comments under Devins’ Instagram posts ‘joking’ that the killing is a ploy for her to get more followers, asking for photos and videos of the murder, and blaming the teen for her own death – one states: “Didn’t deserve to die the way she did, but she knew what she was doing.”
In a heartfelt IG post, Devins’ sister Liv wrote: “I hate that I have to write this. I hate knowing you’re not going to ever come back home. You were the best sister anyone could’ve ever asked for… Rest easy, I love you so much forever and always.”
Clark’s brother took to the platform to express his distress at the situation, and call out those targeting him for his brother’s actions, writing: “Nothing better than waking up at 4am to find out your brother killed someone and tried to kill himself, and when you’re trying to understand and comprehend how the person you looked up to, and taught you so much is responsible for such a horrible act, and people proceed to go out and blame you for what he did.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Instagram is struggling to delete images of Devins’ body that have been copied and shared by other IG users. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Facebook-owned platform said: “We are taking every measure to remove this content from our platforms. We don’t want people seeing content that violates our policies. Our goal is to take action as soon as possible – there is always room for improvement. Our thoughts go out to those affected by this tragic event.”
Authorities in Utica have charged Brandon Andrew Clark with second-degree murder, meaning he will face up to 25 years in prison if convicted. Clark is currently being held in a correctional facility after undergoing surgery for his self-inflicted wounds, which were described as “severe” by police, though he is expected to survive.
Following the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand, Devins’ tragic death raises further questions about the increasing number of murders shared all too easily on social media platforms, and where responsibility for such lies.