Sunil Tripathi Update: Outpouring of social media support for Brown Univ. student found dead

Sunil Tripathi
Sunil Tripathi

(CBS) - The same social media sites that just days ago carried accusations he was a suspect in the Boston bombings, lit up Thursday with outpourings of grief and support for the family of the 22-year-old Brown University student whose body was found in the water near Providence, RI.

PICTURES: Body ID'd as Brown University student

Sunil Tripathi disappeared from Brown's campus on March 16. Hoping to spread the word about his case, Tripathi's family created a Facebook page called "Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi." Soon, thousands of users had "liked" the page and were posting messages of support to the family. 

But their social media strategy backfired when Internet users mistakenly identified the student as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. According to the Atlantic magazine, soon after authorities released images of the suspected bombers, users on Reddit, a link-sharing community, began speculating that Tripathi bore a resemblance to the young man now known to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. 

The magazine reports that on April 19, the main Twitter account for Anonymous tweeted: "Police on scanner identify the names of #BostonMarathon suspects in gunfight, Suspect 1: Mike Mulugeta. Suspect 2: Sunil Tripathi." The tweet was reportedly retweeted more than 3,000 times. 

For Sunil's family, the turn was devastating.

"The hardest part of this was how far from any actual evidence there actually was, and how quickly and how painfully this traveled," Tripathi's sister Sangeeta told Mother Jones magazine.

On Thursday, officials announced that the body found by a Brown University crew team in R.I. waters was, in fact, Tripathi. According to the Associated Press, officials said the body had been in the water for "some time."

Tripathi's family released a statement via Facebook describing their grief and thanking the public for their support. The statement received more than 1,500 "likes" within two hours. It reads, in part:

"To each one of you-from our hometown to many distant lands-we extend our thanks for the words of encouragement, for your thoughts, for your hands, for your prayers, and for the love you have so generously shared."

Christina Paxton, the president of Brown, also published a statement on the university's Facebook page expressing "profound sadness" that Tripathi had not been found alive.

Using the hashtag #sunil, Twitter users remembered the student, offered condolences to his family, and reminded each other of the perils of jumping to conclusions online.

"Sad new about Sunil Tripathi," tweeted Piers Morgan Tonight executive producer Jonathan Wald. "We were all hoping for a different ending."

Complete coverage of Sunil Tripathi on Crimesider