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Alissa Turney
Alissa Turneyvia Phoenix Police Department

TikTok might have helped solve a decades-long murder case

The 2001 disappearance of 17-year-old Alissa Turney has been investigated through a social media campaign run by her sister

Back in 2001, the 17-year-old Alissa Turney disappeared from her high school in Phoenix, Arizona. At first, the Phoenix police suspected she’d run away from home, but her younger sister, Sarah Turney – then 12, now 31 – launched a social media campaign as an adult, which reexamined Alissa’s relationship with her stepfather, Michael Turney.

Now, almost two decades after Alissa disappeared, Michael Turney has been charged with second-degree homicide, as reported by the New York Times

At an August 20 press conference announcing the grand jury indictment, the Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel directly addressed Sarah Turney, saying: “your perseverance and commitment to finding justice for your sister Alissa is a testament to the love of a sister. Because of that love, Alissa’s light has never gone out and she lives on in the stories and photos you’ve shared with the community.”

While Sarah has previously shared details related to the case via a variety of platforms – including a podcast, blog, Facebook group, Twitter, YouTube, and her Instagram account – TikTok, which she downloaded in April, is where the campaign really took off. 

On the platform, she shares childhood videos and clips of Michael filming Alissa from a parking lot, taken from old VHS footage, alongside recordings of phone calls that appear to reveal her father’s fraught relationship with her half-sister. After he got out of prison in 2017 – having served seven years on unrelated charges – she sat down to interview him in person. Audio shared to TikTok records him saying that he’ll give honest answers “at the deathbed”.

To boost awareness and push for charges, Sarah has also shared iterations of trending memes on the app. “That dark humour of TikTok really just lent itself to me,” she says. “I feel like there was not another platform where I could be as expressive.”

Right now, Sarah’s TikTok has over a million followers, though it’s unclear how (or if) it directly affected the case (police spokespeople have refused to say what evidence led to the homicide charge). Detective William Anderson, who is leading the case for the Phoenix Police Department, told the press conference that it was a “no-body homicide investigation”.

Nevertheless, the social media campaign undeniably raised awareness of the case – similar to shows such as Making A Murderer or Unsolved Mysteries, which have also been credited with helping unearth new information in their respective cases. 

Having celebrated the new charges, Sarah Turney says that she plans to attend every forthcoming court hearing, adding: “All I can hope for is a fair trial for Alissa and my father. That’s all I ever wanted, is for them both to have their day in court.”