For Alleged Teen Murderer Eliza Wasni, Facebook Is the Medieval Stocks
There's no such thing as a trial online.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Eliza Wasni, a 16-year-old girl from suburban Chicago, called an Uber from a Walmart parking lot in Skokie, Illinois. When her driver, Grant Nelson, arrived to pick her up, Wasni allegedly used a stolen machete and knife to brutally hack him to death before attempting to flee in the victim’s blood-stained car. On Wednesday, Wasni appeared in court for a bail hearing, but online, she had already been tried and convicted, as thousands of users flooded to her then-public Facebook profile, leaving hundreds of graphically violent threats, moral condemnations, insults, or messages of grief and rage.
On Thursday, a Cook County, Illinois, judge denied Wasni bail. She will be tried as an adult. Nelson, her 34-year-old victim, managed to escape, but died of his wounds in the hospital after identifying his attacker to the police. Wasni was found by police shortly after the crime, covered in blood next to an air-conditioning unit behind a nearby building, still clutching the knife and machete. According to the Chicago Tribune, Wasni “kept her eyes mostly to the floor” during Thursday’s bail hearing, as prosecutors called her crime “heinous” and “not provoked in any manner.” Online, commenters called her much, much worse than that.
As details about the crime started to surface, members of the public and other Chicago residents found Wasni’s Facebook profile, which had a few public posts that could be commented on. And the comments started pouring in.
“Stupid dumb cunt. I’m sure you made your parents reallll proud,” wrote Jimmy Derossi, whose Facebook profile says he attended high school in the same area as the crime. “Don’t worry. You’re gonna be violated so hard in prison and your gangbanging friends won’t be there to save you.”
Derossi’s comment goes on, and it was one of many — nearly 500 — expressing rage, hate, disbelief, and grief over the crime. Wasni’s trial has yet to begin, but all evidence suggests she is guilty: She was allegedly found holding both of the murder weapons, and did not respond to police, forcing them to subdue her with a Taser.
We do know a few things about her: she lived with her mother, a single parent, on the north side of Chicago (as reported by the Tribune), where she was enrolled at Taft High School for a short time in February of this year.
Her online presence, for a teen, was relatively sparse. She had both an Instagram and Twitter profile, but the former is private, with only one post, and the latter has no tweets. In the “About Me” section of her Facebook profile, Wasni wrote: “I will Always Be Myself.” She had a handful of pictures uploaded — a few selfies, a photo or two of friends. At some point, she or a guardian registered her on KidsCasting, a talent website for child actors.
In the middle ages, criminals were often punished for various crimes by time in the stocks: two heavy planks, placed over the arms or legs, immobilizing the prisoner in an uncomfortable or humiliating position, often in the public square. Other citizens, as a form of entertainment, were encouraged to throw rotten vegetables and other refuse at the condemned. If their crimes were particularly severe, citizens would throw stones and human excrement. Wasni is almost certainly guilty. She will go to trial and she will, evidence suggests, be convicted. But she is also a 16-year-old child. Police have still not announced a motive for the crime; there have been no toxicology reports, nor psychiatric evaluations released to the public.
Taft High School’s principal, Mark Grishaber, told DNAinfo that Wasni was “in and out of therapeutic hospitals,” both before and after her eight-day enrollment at his school.
“Her case manager told me she shouldn’t have even been allowed to enroll at Taft, and hearing about this, I guess she was right,” Grishaber told DNAinfo. “It’s just so odd, and very tragic … I don’t think anyone even knew who she was.”
Many of the public comments on her page lamented the fact that Illinois no longer has the death penalty, or wished her a far more gruesome end than the lethal cocktail of drugs used for executions in the United States. While Wasni sat in a holding cell and in the courtroom, on the internet she was in the stocks. It’s unlikely that Wasni had internet access while being held by the police (inmates are forbidden from using the internet by the Illinois DOC, though Wasni isn’t in that system yet). Her Facebook profile was deactivated on Thursday afternoon.
Inverse reached out to Facebook to ask what its policies are concerning violent speech in this context. We’ll update this post when we hear back. It’s unclear if Wasni deleted her page herself, or if Facebook deactivated it. Wasni’s mother has not spoken publicly.