All the names in this account have been changed to protect me from legal reprisal.
I was part of an online community that discussed gaming. I LARPed sometimes, and played other types of games. I'd become fascinated with "alternate reality games", ARGs. Eschewing all pretense of "playing a game" and immersing yourself in an alternate reality that took place in your real life. The idea sounded so immersive. A friend of mine told me that he had been involved in an intense ARG he found based out of an mIRC channel. He said the players were very enthusiastic, and for the most part, he commented here and there, but never got too serious about it.
I joined the channel and started chatting with some of the players. The story behind the game was pretty simple: an NPC's sister (her name was Teresa Banks) had been kidnapped, and presumably murdered, so he reached out to the channel for help. Apparently the NPC lived in another state, and said the police were incompetent and wouldn't pursue his sister if she had crossed the state line. That was a matter for the FBI, but the NPC didn't want to get involved with the FBI because he was scared it would endanger his sister's life.
The ARG had already been underway for a little while, so there were a few trailheads the players in the chat linked me. Most of them were pictures and videos of the girl. The videos were... odd. One video showed the woman standing in a house with, what I presumed was, her family during Christmas. The footage was taken by someone standing outside the house, probably using a cell phone telling by the quality. There were countless photos of the girl with boys, friends, family, walking pets, opening birthday presents. The trailheads didn't offer too many clues. We mostly gathered around in video chats and discussed aspects of the disappearance. We exchanged phone numbers so we could stay in touch. One of the players, Nimby163, was logging the whole experience in a series of youtube videos. I never imagined a game could be so involved, but these people were allowing themselves to be fully absorbed into the world of this story. I promptly signed up to join them.
I started by doing some basic investigating: checking out the missing girl's Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, just getting a feel for the kind of person she was. After a little bit of digging I realized the girl used to live in my area. I could solve this whole thing myself!
I went to the place her Facebook said she last worked: a restaurant one county over. I walked in and started asking around, but the servers were weirded out by me asking questions about the girl. I was certain if she was one of the NPC's in the game she had taken precautions so that her coworkers knew what to do if they were confronted with questions about the her. One of the servers was especially hostile, telling me Teresa had left town, and she didn't want to be bothered by "guys like me". Then I got the crazy idea to tell her former manager that I was her coworker at her new job (I'd make up a new job) and I needed a way to contact her because she hadn't been showing up for work. After a little bit of toil, I convinced the guy to give me a phone number. He told me he wasn't sure if it was still her phone number, or not, but it was the last number she gave him.
That night I went back into the channel and relayed my success to the group. They were all very happy with the work I had done, and asked me to keep looking into it on my end. They asked me to post the number so they could do their own research, so I posted the number. I then got a private message from one of the members in the channel, Nimby. Nimby told me to be careful about trying to contact Teresa directly because she was in danger. He was afraid her (would-be) captors kept a close eye on her, and that if they knew people were looking for her, she'd be in even greater danger. He told me this long-winded story about how he learned that Theresa used to be in a cult. I agreed with Nimby that contacting Theresa directly might put her in danger, so I decided against calling the phone number.
I eventually ran the phone number through a reverse phone lookup to see who the number was associated with. The number belonged to a woman named Maddy Ferguson. The white pages even gave me an address and everything. I decided to grab my camera and document the residence of Maddy Ferguson so my group online could disseminate the information. I got in my car and drove to the address. I came across a trailer park just outside of town. I found Maddy's trailer and parked out front and took a few pictures, then drove off.
That night I posted my photos to the channel, and the players were all very excited. We discussed the possibility that Teresa had changed her name to hide from her captors, so we realized that she must've escaped her captors somehow, but we needed to reach out to her to make sure she was safe. We had to insure that Teresa stayed safe. I also noticed that Nimby wasn't present that night. One of the players told me to reach out to Maddy and ask about Teresa tomorrow. If Teresa needed help we needed to make it clear to Maddy, that is if Maddy was Teresa, that we wanted to help her. If Maddy was just a close friend then it was just as important that we let her know we were trying to help.
Amidst all of the sleuthing I had almost forgotten that this was a game. I knew you weren't supposed to let that mentality infiltrate your mind while playing, that this was a game, but I had to remind myself before I became too invested. I had to work the next day, so I really didn't have time to log in to the channel, or go asking this Maddy lady any questions. I'm sure they'd understand if I took a day or two from the game.
A day or so later I eventually logged back into the channel and started chatting with the players. Then we all received an invitation to an anonymous video chat. I went to the live feed and froze. I saw a man wearing a leather plague mask. He was wielding around a butcher knife, and behind him, a girl was kneeling on the floor. She was tied up and she had duct tape over her mouth. Her face was red from crying, her hair blonde and wrangled, and she looked like she was trying to scream behind the duct tape.
"I would like to thank all of you for playing, but I'd especially like to thank user DownHomeCookin for helping me find my girl!" He said proudly. "For more updates please visit 4chan /b/ in the next few hours, I'll be sure to keep everyone updated!"
He then begun circling her. What had I done? Had I led this psychopath to this Teresa, or Maddy, girl? Had we all been playing this sicko's game? I decided to get in my car and drive to Maddy's house. I drove to the trailer park and went by Maddy's place. I saw a police car out front, and some neighbors talking to two police officers. I parked my car nearby, got on my cellphone, and went to 4chan to see what he was talking about.
I saw a picture post with text next to it that read "For my favorite players", and it looked like a photo of a tied up girl being forcefully led through a dark forest. I could see her back, her blond hair, and I could see a dark forest path lightened by a flash light. He must've been in the woods, so I had to tell the police. I ran out of my car and sped over to the cops outside her trailer. I told them the girl was in danger, and that she was in the nearby woods. I don't think the cops knew how to take what I was saying, but one of the cops decided to stay behind a take my statement while the other went into the woods looking for the girl.
I explained everything to him. I explained the ARG, how I found the girl, and how I virtually led the psycho right to her. He didn't seem to understand what was going on, but said I had acted as "an accessory to kidnapping". I denied that I was any kind of "accessory" because I was under the assumption that we were playing some kind of game, and that I had no idea I was actually helping the stalker locate this woman. I then showed him my cell phone and told him to tell his partner that the psycho was updating every bit of the experience with the girl, and to use his cell phone to locate them. He contacted his partner over a radio and told him to use the images being posted on the board to help him locate the girl.
I stood nervously as I saw the images posted one after another. The girl was being shuffled from a forest path into some kind of abandoned building. The next few photos were shot close to the girl's face. I could see her tear strewn eyes, her red face, her mussed up blond hair. Her mouth still covered with duct tape, eyeliner and mascara running down her face, and a bright light shining in her eyes forcing her to squint. I started to yell at the cop that the psycho was going to hurt her. The cop was confused, but became desperate and started to radio his partner incessantly asking him if he'd found the girl, but the partner was still ambling around in the woods. The cop told his partner to look for an abandoned building.
I picked up my phone and swallowed deeply. As it lit up I saw a few photos of the girl's limp body tied to some kind of pole, undressed (except for her bra and panties), and slumped over lifelessly. Her stomach was covered in blood and stab wounds. The next photo was the man in the plague mask waving goodbye. His last words were "It was a fun game, and I hope you guys enjoyed your reward for all of your hard work!" I vomited on the ground. What the fuck had just happened? What in the fuck had I just done?
The cops found the girl's body the next morning. They arrested me as an accomplice, and I had to call a lawyer. When I explained myself they tried to say that I willfully stalked and aided the killer in finding, and by extension, murdering the girl.
To this day I'm still tied up in court proceedings, but I'm currently trying to help the police find the guy that did it. I would cut any deal to make sure I don't see jail time over this stupid shit. It's bad enough I have to feel like I helped this psycho find the girl, but because these stupid cops don't seem to understand the internet, they also think that I'm lying when I say I thought it was just a game. The DA says all the photos I took and posted on the channel are proof that I was stalking her. My lawyer says I should be pretty safe though because I tried to help them find the guy the night of the murder. So I guess I'll just have to bide my time and see until then.