Members of a secret Facebook group were up in arms after a man posted a picture of himself next to a kitten that had been tortured and killed.
Court documents indicate the cat was tied to the back of a Jeep and dragged to its death. A photo circulating online appears to depict Ryan Williams, 18, mugging for the camera next to the mutilated animal.
Branson police were flooded with phone calls and Facebook tips, city spokeswoman Jennifer Langford told the News-Leader.
"Dispatch received over 100 calls, 10 crime tips submitted through our website, and hundreds of FB messenger submissions," Langford said in an email.
A horde of persistent tipsters from across the country worked together to track down Williams. They documented their work and took credit when they learned Williams had been arrested.
Williams is being held in the Taney County Jail on a $15,000 bond. Court documents dated Monday say he was removed from a hearing "due to behavior and being disruptive."
A second man, Jordan Hall, has since been charged with similar crimes and named as the driver of the car. Hall has been arrested and also is in the Taney County Jail on a $15,000 bond.
In court documents, officers note that a camera was rolling while the cat was tormented and killed.
The online pursuit started after a photo was posted to Facebook appearing to depict Williams posing next to a dead kitten. In the photo, the cat appears bloodstained and has one eye popping out of its head. A noose is visible around its neck.
"Try to guess how I killed my cat, bet you can't," was the caption on the photo attributed to Williams on the secret Facebook group "Cellulites: Salvation."
People were outraged, including members of the group (some of whom call themselves "cells").
Word spread through posts like one by Ryan Mayne, a music teacher in Omaha. Mayne's post from early Sunday morning was shared about 7,800 times by Tuesday afternoon and featured more than 1,400 comments.
It also included a screen capture of the original photo with the caption edited to say "order me a pizza and I will post video of (the cat's) death."
Mayne, a former member who still knows people in the group, said it's not uncommon for posters to edit captions in the group, which he said had more than 40,000 members. The group traffics in "sort of offensive humor within certain morals," Mayne said.
For instance, "you can't do child porn or animal cruelty," he said.
A separate post on the text storage site Pastebin shows how internet activists conducted their own investigation.
Internet sleuths found Williams' Facebook page. They looked up the license plate on the vehicle. They tried to identify or speak with family, friends and an ex-girlfriend.
Some followed the incident into early Sunday morning, and one man recorded himself calling the Branson Police Department and speaking with a dispatcher to confirm that Williams had been arrested.
Internet sleuths also trawled for Williams' address and past digital history.
"I legit saw the min he posted the video and was working for hours trying to gather information about him and now we got him arrested," said one commenter on a YouTube video about Williams.
Killing the cat
According to a probable cause statement, Williams tied a rope around a cat's neck and tied it to the back of a Jeep.
The News-Leader has reviewed footage that has been shared across the internet. Branson police did not confirm the authenticity of the video when asked by the News-Leader.
The video shows a gold Jeep accelerating while people laugh and watch the kitten's plight, with one person filming the incident from the trunk.
The kitten's tiny legs couldn't keep up with the SUV, and after being dragged for several laps, the little animal lay dead on the asphalt.
Police say the incident was filmed by one of Williams' friends and, in the video, multiple individuals can be heard laughing while the cat fights to keep its footing.
"Dude, kill his ass," one person says in the video after the cat appears to lose strength and start bleeding.
At one point, the vehicle stops, and the people behind the camera discuss the "semi-alive" kitten's vitality and whether to "slam (the cat) into the ground, kill him."
"Should we put him out of his misery?" one person asks.
In response, the vehicle speeds up and the laughs start again.
Later in the video, the SUV stops and starts once more. A person in the trunk can be seen jerking on the rope so the kitten goes airborne and bounces off the pavement.
The kitten was in bad shape at the end of the video. Before the camera cuts off, one person continues jerking the rope to move the dying cat's head up and down like a macabre marionette.
"Shake your head for me if you're dead," the person says.
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