Photographs from the aftermath of the Boston Marathon attack circulated around the web so quickly that, in some cases this week, victims' family members first learned about their injured loved ones through social media. For 25-year-old Richard Whalley, finding his father's image online ended up being the key to locating both his parents after the bombing on Monday.
As the Massachusetts-based Gloucester Times reported, Whalley's brother came across a photo of a man covered in blood, sitting in a wheelchair and crying in pain. Though the man's name was not listed along with the picture, the brothers knew he was their father.
“It was tough to see," Whalley told the Times.
The two tried calling local hospitals, but the search proved unsuccessful. They later learned their parents' names had been misspelled when they were admitted to Brigham & Women’s Hospital for treatment.
ABC News reports that the brothers initially saw the photo of their father on Reddit. They then put the picture up on Facebook and asked for help Monday evening.
"I have no idea where my mum is. They were both bombed. I'm trying to find out what hospital they are at. can you help? Eric Whalley & Ann Whalley. They look pretty severely injured and I'm worried my Mum is dead," Whalley wrote on Facebook. He also included a link to the news article featuring the photo of his father. Within minutes, he learned where his mom and dad were being treated.
On Tuesday, Whalley had good news for those who had helped him. "Both parents now in stable condition. The outcomes from examinations and surgeries today have been very positive from my dad, so we have been very lucky. The influx of help has been amazing," he posted on Facebook.
The Whalley family's story is among the many this week that have illustrated the immense role social media is playing in spreading information about the attacks. In addition to Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, Google's Person Finder tool also made it easier for people to track down their loved ones.
But this rapid flow of information also led to false accusations against innocent bystanders, whose images were plastered across social media with rampant speculation about their involvement in the attack -- simply because they happened to be carrying large bags and standing near the site of the explosions.