How True Love or Tragedy is Only a Click Away...The Story of Kerry KujawaAuthor Raymond Chan was a classmate of Kerry Kujawa's for several years in Sugar Land, Texas. Kerry's tragic story serves as a poignant example of the dangers of online relationships with offline consequences.
An Unexpected Phone Call
Late last April I got a phone call one afternoon from a good high school friend of mine who attended Texas A&M University. Not expecting the call, I good-naturedly asked how things were going.
It was not a social call. There was no good news, and things were not going well.
Earlier that day police had identified the body of Kerry Kujawa, a fellow A&M student and an old classmate that we had gone to school with for years. Kerry's body had been found, badly decomposed and unidentifiable, in a field on a remote ranch in the Texas hill country. The story around Kerry's tragic death would come out over the next day, and its nature shocked all of us who had known him.
Kerry had been having an online relationship with whom he thought to be a young woman under the screen name 'kelly_mc', meeting and communicating through an online chat room. Her real name was "Kelly McCauley", and seemed to be a nice pre-law student who was trapped in a destructive relationship, and Kerry was one of those people who wouldn't let her stay in such an emasculating position. They seemed to grow closer and closer over the months, and eventually Kerry started to ask Kelly to meet face to face, so that he could help her. He apparently grew insistent on helping her, and on April 7th, 2000, Kerry left campus to meet her in San Antonio.
A week or so later Kerry's family and friends received an email from Kerry saying that he was ok and would be staying with Kelly for a little longer. Online, Kelly had been telling others in the close-knit chat room that she and Kerry were engaged and would be getting married soon.
In the end, this fairy tale fantasy would prove to have been a terrible tragedy. A couple weeks later Kerry's friends started to worry about his continued absence from school and filed a missing-persons report. Just the day before, police had discovered Kerry's body, but had not yet been able to identify it. The news came as a crushing blow to Kerry's family, friends, and all those who had known him.
Who was 'kelly_mc'?
Kerry's online love interest, 'Kelly', was not who he or anybody else thought she was. By interviewing the operators and frequent participators of the chat room, police obtained the phone numbers and addresses that the person had given out to contact her at. Authorities were also helped by carefully examining the computers Kerry had used to send and receive emails from 'kelly_mc'. 'She' was actually 31 year-old, 6' 2" Kenny Wayne Lockwood, a former McDonald's assistant manager who lived with his parents in an upscale neighborhood in San Antonio. He had no felony convictions and was described by one neighbor as being the "last [person one would assume] for being involved [in the murder]." Other neighbors described him as "quiet, a real computer geek."
It would later come out that Lockwood had used the persona of 'Kelly' to talk with other young men in addition to Kerry, luring them with an appealing story and pictures of an attractive young woman to further the ploy. To conceal his identity, Lockwood met Kerry under the pretense of being Kelly's brother, then shot and killed him and disposed of his body. To delay the discovery of the murder, Lockwood sent the email purporting to be Kerry and continued to assume the persona of 'Kelly' in the chat room and furthering the story of the two supposedly in love.
To those of us who had known and grown up with Kerry, the news of his death came as a terrible shock. The story of his murder, however, came as an even greater surprise. Kerry was a smart, highly intelligent, and computer-savvy individual. He was not the stereotypical 'computer geek' who spent his entire social life in front of a monitor and kept indoors or a 'jock' who would have been ignorant and not understanding of computers and the inherent risks. Instead, he was a sociable individual, an avid track athlete, and a notable engineering student.
Having talked with him on an almost daily basis throughout high school, I can say that Kerry was not a soft hearted, idealistic, or romantic individual. Furthermore, he was one of the brightest minds at my high school, ranked high in the class and one who took a challenging schedule of AP courses and extra-curricular activities. I would never have guessed that Kerry would be one to be tricked into such a deep and deceptive ploy by someone else; if anything, I can recall some of the joking pranks that he had played on others. All of us who previously had read or heard stories of failed online relationships in the media and dismissed them now had to rethink our beliefs. We had to re-examine our online lives and our hollow belief that we were somehow invulnerable to the situations that these stories presented.
Kerry's death forced all of us in the community and schools to rethink our notions of the Internet and the online world. It is too easy to think of the Internet as a collection of web pages and dot.coms, a resource of information and services that exist in a space parallel but separate from the "real world." However, the Internet is as much a community of people as it is a collection of pages and files, and those people very much exist in the same world that we do. And the problem is they can be terribly dangerous.
As the idiom goes, on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog!