Tweet Beat: social media buzzing about crime

By Robert Holly/ — Champaign-Urbana social-media users have erupted with posts about the unusual crimes that have occurred throughout the past few weeks. Those crimes range from the mysterious, to the serious, to the downright ridiculous.

On Sept. 6, many Champaign-Urbana area residents tweeted about the Amber Alert issued in response to the abduction of a 13-year-old girl. Those who tweeted about the alert include @chambanamoms and dozens of news outlets.

The abductor, Nicolas Hurley, was caught the same day as the Amber Alert. Police found him in Cape Girardeau, Mo. The 13 year old was found in good condition.

On Aug. 31, a 19-year-old University of Illinois student was taken into custody for making terrorist-like threats to other students.

The student, Dany Sammak, reportedly made references to the Virginia Tech shooting and made shooting gestures with his hands.

Sammak was charged with a Class 4 Felony and his bond was set as $250,000, according to court records.

Perhaps the most intriguing crime social-media users have been discussing is the blow-dart bandit, though.

In late August, an assailant shot two pedestrians with blow darts, hitting both victims in the forearm. Immediately after the assault, the blow-dart shooter escaped undetected. Nearly a week later, an anonymous tip led police to Todd Farthing, a 19-year-old student at Parkland College.

Farthing was ultimately charged with two counts of aggravated battery in a public place, according to court records. His bond was set at $5,000, and he is scheduled to appear in court Oct. 8.

The timing of the attacks with the start of the school year prompted one Twitter user to tweet: “Welcome to campus, freshmen, hope you don’t get attacked by the blow dart bandit on your first day.”

Champaign County Crime Stop has a Twitter account to keep up with local crime information. It can be followed at @CrimeStoppersCC. The account has tweeted 102 times, has 247 followers and has followed seven other Twitter users so far.

The Champaign Police Department also maintains a Facebook page with updates and announcements.

Most recently, it posted this announcement: “The Champaign Police Department would like to congratulate Lt. Robert Rea and Sgt. Dennis Baltzell who, after many months of rigorous training, completed the Wisconsin Ironman competition yesterday. While many of us were sitting on the couch watching the start of the NFL season, these two men spent the day swimming 2.4 miles, riding a bicycle 112 miles and followed that up by running 26.2 miles. Congratulations Ironmen, your CPD family is proud of your accomplishment!”

The page has 1,382 likes. More than 400 people are currently talking about the Champaign Police Department on Facebook.

More social media news from around town

Non-crime related topics that people have been talking about through social media include a popular barbeque joint, an upcoming sustainability conference and a new research facility.

Ever since Black Dog Smoke & Ale House in Urbana announced it will open up a second location in downtown Champaign, barbeque fans have been expressing their excitement. The new location is tentatively scheduled to be opened sometime in 2014, according to news reports.

People have a reason to be excited about the new opening, too. Fox News recently rated Black Dog as the nation’s second-best barbeque spot.

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard, who can be followed on Twitter as @DonGerard, tweeted about the upcoming Green Infrastructure Conference, which will feature information on the management of constructed wetlands, rain gardens and green roofs.

The conference will be held at the iHotel Conference Center on Sept. 17. It starts at 8 a.m. and concludes at 3:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Lunch will also be provided.

Gerard also tweeted about new openings on the Historical Preservation Commission, the group responsible for identifying historically significant properties and landmarks.

Another interesting topic trending on Twitter is the University of Illinois’ new beer research lab. The topic has even made national news, as it’s currently being highlighted by news outlets like Huffington Post, Fox News and ABC.

Chicago’s Huffington Post bureau, which can be followed at @HuffPostChicago, tweeted: “A top Illinois party school getting a beer research lab. Cheers to that!”

Ab InBev is behind the new facility, which it has named Bud Lab – though it’s not exactly what its name suggests. More descriptive information can be found on the Research Park website.

The website said: “The Bud Lab will focus on data analytics, developing data research and innovation to solve problems ranging from assortment optimization, social media and market trends to large scale data initiatives, bringing together the University of Illinois’ top talent with the company’s portfolio of leading beer brands in a vibrant environment designed to stimulate innovative thinking.”

To analyze what topics are trending in a community, you can go to and search for your area. shows that the most popular subjects trending on Twitter are “Illini” and “Bid,” which are presumably popular because of the Illinois football team’s victories to start the season and the bid process college students go through when they apply to join fraternities or sororities.

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