The family of Heather Elvis wants the online threats targeting their family and friends to stop.
Terry and Debbie Elvis called a press conference Thursday to discuss what the public can do to stem the cyberbullying and harassment facing Elvis family, friends and supporters.
The couple said social media – which was once so helpful in spreading the image of their missing daughter Heather – is now used to attack the family. Debbie Elvis said the harassment began in January 2014 from internet “trolls” using anonymous profiles to divide support on the case and spread misinformation. The threats aren’t just directed at the Elvis family, either, she said.
“The trolls [online harassers] are targeting all our friends, and our supporters and business friends too,” Debbie Elvis said.
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Elvis, who was 20 at the time, was reported missing Dec. 19, 2013, after Horry County police found her car, which was registered to her father, parked at the Peachtree boat landing. Elvis’ keys, cellphone and purse were not found in the locked car.
People who have expressed support of the Elvis’ or an opinion about the case have been threatened online, on the phone or elsewhere, she said. The majority of the “trolls” are people based in other states, Debbie Elvis said, who follow high-profile missing person and murder cases.
The couple said they have reported all incidents of online bullying to local authorities, but there’s only so much police can do to deter virtual threats.
“We get reports of online bullying quite frequently, but there’s really not too much that can be done on those,” Lt. Raul Denis, Horry County police spokesman, said.
Threats must be proven credible and show an immediate ability to be carried out in order for police to act on them, Denis said. Many reports of threats can’t be proven credible, which limits law enforcement agencies’ actions, he said.
“A lot of times those cases don’t go anywhere because of that,” Denis said.
That’s why the Elvis’ want to encourage locals to ignore internet “trolls” who post inflammatory rumors and create false profiles to harass the family. Debbie Elvis offered this advice to anyone who encounters those who post threats online:
• Don’t contribute to online arguments and rumors
• Don’t address the internet “trolls,” but do address the issue
• Don’t defend yourself if you’ve done nothing wrong
• Don’t share links, photos or pages posted or created by false profiles
“Why should anyone listen to these people who are not willing to put their real names to what they’re saying?” Terry Elvis said.
Horry County police have charged Tammy Moorer and Sidney Moorer with murder and kidnapping in February 2014 in connection with Elvis’ disappearance. The couple were each released on $100,000 bail in January following a hearing before Circuit Court Judge R. Markley Dennis in Charleston.
Denis said Horry County police have received many reports of online bullying or threats from the Elvis family, some of them stemming from supporters of the Moorers. He said several Elvis family members have had “back and forths” between members of the Moorer family.
“Several people from both sides of that ugly situation are in contact with people at Horry police and victim’s advocates constantly,” Denis said. “People have posted different kinds of misinformation and made bizarre and inappropriate posts on social media channels.”
Horry police have investigated every complaint of online bullying from the Elvis’, but so far none have been deemed prosecutable by the solicitor’s office,” Denis said.
Most of the complaints center around Terry Elvis, Heather’s father.
“To our knowledge, there have been numerous posts of very derogatory information concerning the Elvis’, mostly Terry Elvis,” Denis said.
There are at least half a dozen Facebook pages revolving around the Elvis case, ranging from supporters of the accused Moorer couple to groups solely focused on finding the missing woman. Several of those Facebook pages have more than two thousand followers.
Jimmy Richardson, 15th circuit solicitor, said he’s heard from Terry and Debbie Elvis many times regarding online threats against the family, but the prosecutor can only deal with cases where arrests have already been made. He said he sends all reports to the proper authorities, but has encouraged the Elvis family to civilly sue their harassers.
“There may very well be civil ramifications from slander or libel,” Richardson said. “But through a criminal process, you can’t lock somebody up just because you don’t like what they’re saying.”
Online threats can be considered harassment or stalking if the victim’s privacy is violated or if the victim is being credibly threatened directly, Richardson said. Pictures or video taken in public places or outside are not considered stalking.
The cyberbullying targeting the Elvis family has gotten more intense over the past month, and Debbie and Terry Elvis said they just want everyone to focus on the important issue: finding Heather.
“It’s caused a major distraction to our family’s main problem right now, which is that we don’t know where are daughter is,” Terry Elvis said.