Photo: Police investigate the scene of the murder of Lawrence Lopez Sr. on Sept. 27. The homicide was the latest in the string on Stockton serial shootings. according to police. (Courtesy of CVTV)
Amateur detectives in charge of a local online forum worked on average 15 to 18 hours a day for two weeks trying to find Stockton’s serial killer, the Facebook group owner known by the alias Renee Myers told Stocktonia.
“I did take personal time off of work for a little bit over a week to work on it,” she said.
Myers created the Stockton Serial Killer News and Information group on Facebook on Oct. 5, less than a week after Police Chief Stanley McFadden announced five local murders were connected.
Nearly 4,000 people have been added to the online forum. Members joined from across the country, and one administrator is located as far away as Sweden.
The Stocktonian in charge of the group uses the pseudonym “Renee Myers” to protect her privacy and identity as she works on the murder case. Myers said she has a background in communication and community advocacy.
“The community, they want an outlet. They want to talk. They want to confide in one another about how they’re feeling about violent crimes in their city,” Myers said.
In the early days of the investigation, the Stockton Police Department Public Information Officer Joe Silva, reached out to “certain groups on social media. To educate them on how we wanted our tip process to work,” he told Stocktonia.
Myers said she was in “good contact” with Silva and is still having “regular ongoing communication in relation to the quality of the site.”
On Oct. 15, Stockton Police announced they arrested Wesley Brownlee in connection to the case. Rolling Stone reported Silva confirmed social media played a role in the arrest and he had very good communication with Myers’ Facebook group in particular.
“I think that’s what’s been so great about this page is that it really has facilitated that act of collaboration, that positive collaboration between police and community, which is essential to justice,” Myers said.
The San Francisco Chronicle also took notice of Myers and her team’s online investigative work, calling it rare, and showcasing the extent of the online community’s empathy for victims and their families.
Online investigations of animal cruelty, serial killers, cold and missing person’s cases that led police to real suspects aren’t new. Netflix even has a 2019 docuseries titled Don’t F**k with cats: Hunting an Internet Killer, which details how a Facebook group researched and located a man who was posting videos of himself killing felines.
However, Stockton Serial Killer News and Information was the only group “doing active serial killer investigation in real time,” Myers said. She’ told Stocktonia she’s also been approached by sources who are looking to create a documentary about the efforts of the group.
Myers says her group is different because it is a place for people invested in the case to be positive and productive online. The online space invited people who “have a heart for the work, have the experience or expertise” and time that local police officers might not, she said.
Early in the investigation McFadden said officers’ schedules had to be flipped to provide specialized units around the clock.
Silva stated on Oct. 5 the city had a total of 380 officers, more than 100 below what would be considered full capacity. According to the United States Census Bureau, there were 320,804 people living in Stockton as of 2020. Stocktonia recently reported that based on these numbers the city needs more police.
Although Myers’ Facebook group can be easily found online, only members can view its content.
The group is moderated in order to share data and theories that could help police make an arrest, Myers said. Some rules are in place to achieve this goal, such as “no victim shaming” and “anything in relation to racial attacks” would be taken down.
Myers created the group, but once she started receiving hundreds of requests for people to join, she decided she needed help.
“I noticed very early on that there were a couple individuals who were presenting themselves very professionally,” Myers said. “I could tell they had a heart for this story and for the victims.”
She ended up adding two other administrators to the group. She said her right hand was Swedish journalist Caroline Hrud. Myers said Hrud heard about the case on international news and has experience covering a serial killer from her own community.
“One of our core members, Richard Lozano, provided significant validity (for the group) in terms of his research. He has experience working in cold cases,” she said. Myers credits Lozano for building a profile for the serial killer with several bullet points that the group released just a couple of hours before Brownlee was arrested by Stockton Police.
“If you go back and evaluate (the profile) you’ll see that several of those items were on point for who (the suspect) was. We were only off by one year for his age,” Myers said.
The group has validated itself as a useful tool for the investigation because of the quality of the research, positive theory exchanges and “partnership with the police department and now the district attorney’s office,” Meyers said.
She reached out to city officials to tell them the community “very badly needs a liaison” to help Stocktonians heal and feel heard online about the trauma from the amount of Stockton crime.
“We really need to capitalize on the energy of this page now and put it into real life,” Myers said, “because if you don’t do it on the ground now you’re going to lose the energy and the motivation of it. And it just is absolutely essential that (something more official) gets put in place as soon as possible.”
She said a role that serves to moderate Stockton-based cases in an online forum model and work with local police would “absolutely be effective” because it supports both law enforcement and prosecution efforts.
Fox 59 from Indianapolis reported a website called Uncovered is dedicated to connecting people in an effort to compile data, harness the interest in murders and hopefully gather arrest-making tips in a similar way Myers has.
Over the summer a YouTube group called Adventures with Purpose dedicated their dive team’s specific skill set to solving cold cases across the country and were connected with Nevada County officers in August. The group worked with police and located the body of missing Truckee teenager Kiley Rodney.
Dana Sovinec, spokeswoman for Mayor Kevin Lincoln, confirmed Myers reached out to them.
“We are aware of her Facebook page and the work that she has been doing,” Sovinec told Stocktonia.
However, Sovinec said establishing a liaison position is not within the mayor’s purview.
“That would be something that the city manager’s office would handle and determine if there was a need for anything like that, and it would also likely go through a standard process,” Sovinec said.
The city manager’s office has not confirmed or denied if Myers reached out to them on the subject. Sovinec said elected officials are community liaisons when it comes to ongoing investigations and it is critical the community continues to engage with the police department’s social media.
“The processes that are in place have always been the processes that are in place. I think most people don’t know them because they don’t have to,” she said, “These are those cases where we really have to trust the process and follow the process, which is why Joey (Silva) really should be the main point of communication contact with anything surrounding this (case) and the DA’s office.”
Silva would not characterize Myers’ work as a partnership with the Police Department and District Attorney’s office.
“I would say this case involved everybody. I mean our news, at a local, state and national level on social media,” Silva said.
Stockton police got out and educated people about “the seriousness of this investigation and the need for information to flow into the police department. We’re very thankful for our community for doing that,” Silva told Stocktonia. He said CrimeStoppers also has the capability of reaching people from all around the world.
Besides encouraging amateur-investigations and supporting the victims’ families, Myers says she hopes her work can become more impactful for Stockton by educating people about the power of their voices when it comes to solving crime.
“I will be doing zoom conversations with (a class of forensic) students (in New York) to answer their questions about how this work evolved and help empower them to feel like they can make a difference,” Myers said.
When she posted about this new development on the Facebook group, a member asked if it could be done in Stockton as well. Myers replied that she’d like to be connected to an interested party who could make it happen.
“The word and definition for community is expanding. We’ve expanded what that has meant,” Myers said. “So where before we might think of community only as a set of groups living in a particular area, that’s just not the case anymore.”
Just last year, Fox 40 reported new tips were submitted in connection to the case of 16-year-old Stocktonian, Jose “Che” Dominguez, who disappeared in 1981. According to the article, Dominguez’s family created a new Facebook profile with the hope of finding more information.