Fredericksburg Police are broadening their investigation into a University of Mary Washington student's death by examining whether she received threats on the social media app Yik Yak, court documents reveal.
Members of the UMW group Feminists United have said homicide victim Grace Mann was among a group of female students who received threatening Yik Yak posts last winter and spring. Mann was killed April 17. Her housemate Steven Vander Briel is charged with murder.
Concerns about the app Yik Yak surfaced on campus before Mann's death. Early last month, several attorneys joined Feminists United members to announce the filing of a Title IX complaint against the UMW.
It alleges administrators didn't do enough to investigate sex-based cyber threats on Yik Yak. About a week after the news conference, Fredericksburg Police investigators filed a search warrant affidavit seeking to scour Yik Yak for posts made from the university's 22401 ZIP code that use words like "Grace, Mann, Feminist, Rape, Kill and Murder." The search covers the period from March 1 to April 18, 2015.
One of the attorneys who helped with the Title IX complaint said she's pleased to see police examining whether there is a connection between the Yik Yak threats and the accused killer.
"There were threats made to Grace Mann and members of Feminists United of rape, murder and threats of violence," said Debra Katz of Katz, Marshall & Banks.
"It would be completely appropriate to run that down and to see if the person arrested has been making those threats and if not he, who else is making those threats."
Police also filed search warrants to gain access to all of Steven Vander Briel's social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, Gmail and Yahoo mail.
The search warrant affidavit previously filed for other items seized from Mann's home reveals that Briel and the victim had some sort of altercation the afternoon she was killed. Mann's roommates told police Briel also sent numerous texts and made calls to Mann's cellphone in the weeks before her death.
Katz hopes even if police discover Steven Vander Briel never posted threats on Yik Yak, they'll still try to track down others they run across who may have.
"Our view is if you threaten someone with murder or rape, whether it's Grace Mann or anyone else, these are criminal violations and should be prosecuted."
Briel's preliminary hearing is set for June 16.