Rain boots, rising tides and the search for a missing boy


Later that week, in a video now viewed tens of thousands of times, Jada Brooke fanned the flames. She had spoken to a member of Dylan’s family, she said, who was “on our side and agrees something is wrong here.” “I had a vision of him getting smashed down a staircase… It was actually verified to me,” she told viewers, without providing any evidence. She said she had a vision of a shallow grave between two trees, 5 or 6 feet apart, on a property that also contained a red and white truck. This led a Truro resident named Dawn to a field that contained a red and white horse trailer. Inspired, a group of locals burst into the trailer. They found a pile of dry hay, which Brooke called suspect due to its lack of mold. Brooke triumphantly pointed out that the trailer, which stood in front of a grove of trees, was proof that her vision was correct. “If I am silent or something in the group for a while, just remember that I have six children of my own, home schooling four of them. I am a very involved mother. My children are not disappearing, you know what I mean?

The abuse spilled over beyond accusations of the couple’s parenthood. Jason received fraudulent ransom notes from online trolls; one included a forged photo of Dylan’s face, covered with bruises on his right eye and a deep gash on his lip. “You must transfer 3 bitcoins,” the message read, “within 72 hours.” The sender, a Facebook account under Brad’s name, told Jason he would release his son after the transfer was completed, and if he didn’t, he would never see him again. “You have 3 days to save Dylan’s life,” he wrote.

After six days, with no new evidence – no footprints, debris or credible sightings – the police called off their search. Nothing but rain boots. But Jason didn’t stop. He walked the creek bed day after day, attracting dozens of locals to help him. The GoFundMe page would raise around $ 12,500 for the family. Ashley and Jason offered it as a reward for any information.

Jason handed out lapel pins, blue ribbon and green ribbon intertwined. He gave key chains bearing his son’s face. He ordered bumper stickers from Dylan looking upwards, mismatched eyes scanning the sky. “Do you want some swag?” He asked me sadly the first time we met. He handed me a green and blue bracelet and a sticker. Maybe, he said, if I put it on my car at home, two provinces away, someone over there would see it and call for an observation.

In Canada, parents receive an allowance if one of their children goes missing or dies in a probable crime. Because local police did not label the incident a crime, Ashley and Jason did not qualify. “Nobody gives you a brochure on how to be the mother of a missing child,” says Ashley. In October, with the province’s lockdown being lifted and the concession fully reopened, she resumed work.

For months, Facebook group members examined the sparse evidence in the case, creaking out details like bolts of hardening gum. It was a dizzying, dystopian house of rumors and speculations. Theories have raged: for many, the story of the grandmother did not follow. Others thought she was covering her daughter. The fact that the family was collecting money on a GoFundMe page meant that they got rid of Dylan because she needed the money – for alcohol or drugs or both. At one point, the ranks of the groups exceeded 23,000, the same as the entire population of Truro.

By the end of September 2020, the harassment and threats had become so severe that a member of the group began researching laws that govern cyberbullying in the province and even contacted a local lawyer named Allison Harris. Harris knew about the missing boy – Dylan’s story made headlines for weeks after his disappearance – but she was shocked to learn of the abuse the online detective community had engendered. Barely a year and a half after law school, Harris looks completely unfazed. She speaks in jagged, demanding sentences, and even her smile seems precise when it reveals a perfectly centered gap between her front teeth. Harris was one of only two lawyers in the province to have argued personal injury cases online. She told the band member to have Ashley and Jason get in touch and, after hearing their story, offered her pro bono services.

Together, the three got to work documenting thousands of abusive screenshots, hundreds of gruesome messages, dozens of death threats. They wrote letters to the administrators of two of the Facebook groups, asking them to shut down. At first, the two refused, although one changed her mind after being the target of a harassment campaign within her own group. “This case surprised me,” says Harris. “Instead of appreciating that they are causing harm and harm, they seem to think they have a right to have these groups.” (Nonetheless, the groups were like a hydra: when one of them stopped, Ashley and Jason’s harshest critics simply threw others out under untraceable pen names like “Holiday Precious.” .)

The administrators of the second group were local residents of Truro: a couple named April Moulton and Tom Hurley who lived down the road from the backyard where Dylan was last seen. Moulton, who has dyed red hair and Cheshire Cat eyes, was sure she was doing a critical job, her sturdy hands weighed down with silver rings on almost every finger as she examined the details of the case, analyzing fiction from rumor, Hurley moving back and forth behind her. They didn’t know Jason or Ashley until the Dylan story hit the headlines, but they have emerged as two of the most vocal supporters calling for justice for the boy. They knew as well as anyone what it was like to lose a child.



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