Bianca Devins lost her life at the hands of 'someone her family trusted'
Here are the details about the death of the 17-year-old Utica girl allegedly killed by her boyfriend July 14, 2019. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
UTICA, N.Y. – Bianca Devins' Instagram posts on one of her accounts were not plentiful, just 10 of them, and showed her with different colored hair styles and new messages.
In one, she was wearing an Iron Maiden shirt and had pink hair with the message, "Do you love me?"
And it was on Instagram where the 17-year-old Utica teenager recently met Brandon Clark, 21, who lived about a half-hour away.
They quickly became a couple over the past two or three months, so much so that their families spent time together.
So police said Devins' family had no qualms about the pair heading to Queens last Saturday to attend a concert. On Sunday morning, the return trip to central New York turned tragic.
Clark, of Bridgewater, Oneida County, was charged late Monday with second-degree murder of Devins after he allegedly slit her throat and posted the gruesome images on various social media sites.
When police found him on a dead-end road early Sunday, he stabbed himself in the neck with the knife. Clark, who had no prior record, is in stable condition in a Utica hospital, police said.
"It’s a tragedy. A 17-year-old has unfortunately lost her life at the hands of someone her family trusted her to be with," Utica Sgt. Michael Curley said Tuesday.
The case rocked the Utica area just weeks after Devins graduated from high school and renewed concerns about the dangers and powers of social media.
"They met via social media platforms," Curley said. "So it was the primary source of the beginnings of their relationship, and I think obviously through him posting things again through social media post-killing, that was his way of generating attention and generating fame for himself."
The horrific murder has drawn international interest as Devins was an active Instagram user who was developing a strong following through her posts.
But the quick spreading of the horrific images of her death added another layer of grief.
The singer that the couple went to see, Nicole Dollanganger, even asked her followers to stop sharing photos of the images with her on Twitter.
"What happened to this beautiful angel was evil, cruel and senseless," Dollanganger wrote Monday.
She added, "While I know some of u are very well-intentioned, I ask that u PLEASE STOP sharing the horrific content her murderer distributed. Please stop sending them to me."
Social media use and online messaging platforms have become a central theme in this case.
After the two had gone to the concert Saturday, they returned to Utica where "some sort of argument ensued," police said.
"The investigation revealed that the argument progressed until the male produced a large, black-handled knife and used this to inflict the injuries that caused her death," Utica police said in a news release.
"During this time it is believed that he took and distributed photographs of the killing on the Discord platform," police continued, citing the online platform. "Members of Discord then viewed the images posted and contacted Utica Police Department."
Curley confirmed police are investigating reports that the couple may have met another person at the concert and that the argument was the result of Devins' interaction with that person.
But the motive was still unclear, he said.
"We don’t believe anyone physically traveled from Utica to New York with them, but there may have been a party that she met at the concert in New York that precipitated the argument and ultimately the homicide," Curley said.
Devins' family has declined interview requests, putting out a statement Monday, saying, "We are very grateful for the outpouring of love and sympathy we have received from our friends, family, Bianca’s friends and the whole community."
She had just graduated from T. R. Proctor High School in Utica and was planning to attend Mohawk Valley Community College in the fall. The high school made counseling services available this week.
Spreading on social media
Screenshots of the images Clark posted to Discord, a chat app used primarily by video gamers, have circulated across various internet platforms.
Dozens of accounts on Instagram have claimed to have the graphic images and post comments requesting others follow their private accounts to view the photos — part of a clout tactic used to increase follower counts and later sell an account.
Online theories and speculation about Devins' death and her relationship with Clark ran rampant. Police said they contacted Instagram and some of the other sites to remove the images, and most have done so.
More than a dozen videos claiming to explain the crime have been uploaded to YouTube, and threads on Reddit and Twitter debated who she was with prior to the killing.
And Devins' own following continues to grow — on the morning of her death, one of Bianca Devins’ Instagram accounts (@escty) had just over 2,500 followers. Twenty-four hours later, that follower count had jumped up to 36,000. By Tuesday afternoon, it was beyond 115,000.
Devins' family also turned to social media to share memories and organize a vigil held Monday night.
"You were the best sister anyone could’ve ever asked for," Devins sister Liv posted on Instagram.
"Thank you for always being there for me. Thank you for being the best sister I could ever imagine. Thank you for always protecting me and sticking up for me."
But even they had to offer a social-media warning.
The family released a second statement Tuesday asking people to ignore any fundraising pages claiming to be associated with Devins.
"Unfortunately, there are some fund-raising sites that have been put up on the internet purporting to be raising funds for Bianca and these are not legitimate sites," Devins' family said.
They said they plan to create a scholarship fund for students in Utica at a later time
Case stuns community
On Tuesday morning, a Utica Police barrier still blocked off the wooded area off the dead end of Poe Street in Utica, where the murder took place.
A man pulled up in a pickup truck and described himself as a family friend of Devins to pay respects, before walking along the path to silently look over the scene. He declined an interview.
Mary Wiater and Lisa Finnerty stopped on a walk near the Devins family home to discuss how they learned of the killing from teenage children and relatives.
Finnerty’s niece followed the graphic photos and debate in real-time through social media.
“I just kept trying to get her to put the phone down. It was just so horrendous to watch her seeing all of this,” Finnerty said.
The killing also struck home for Wiater, whose daughter is heading into her senior year at the same school as Devins.
“My reaction was to keep telling her to be careful with who you meet with and be careful what you share online,” Wiater said.
Both Wiater and Finnerty described a feeling of helplessness in monitoring online activity of teens.
They reeled off examples of being shocked when their respective teens kept them up to date on fake social media accounts and other internet tools deployed to keep parents in the dark.
After the killing, Wiater said her daughter and friends were finding social media accounts that asked them to click on related images to receive a direct message to unlock more information and photos.
“It’s almost sick how all this happens,” Wiater said. “My daughter showed me all of it and I kept telling her to look for red flags and tell somebody if you see something that’s not right.”
Then, Wiater paused to contemplate the Devins' family loss
“It’s just really so sad,” she said.
Vincent Nivaggi, 93, who lives on Poe Street, described how the police sirens and investigators stunned residents on the typically quiet dead-end street.
“It was just so strange to hear about her live being shortened like that and how they met online,” said Nivaggi, who added he doesn’t have a computer.
“God, you really never know about the internet,” he said.
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