Moreover, some of the most disturbed users seem to relish their belief that they are subject to constant police surveillance: "I know you're watching me... . I laugh at thee. There is nothing you can do to stop me. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA," wrote Gill last February. Police in fact knew nothing of his Web page at the time.
As a legal matter, we still treat the Internet as though nothing on it is real. We aren't yet sure how to regulate it and most of us still use it with little regard for the legal consequences of what we post. That makes it a perfect medium for people like Duckett, Castillo, and Gill—people hoping desperately not to be invisible. Both Castillo and Gill are described by former school friends as unmemorable. Castillo would "sit in the back of class quietly, his hands folded atop his desk." Gill had a blank entry in his high-school yearbook. Yet each was the hero of his Web page.
But, in the end, these Web pages aren't real, either, although the victims and alleged victims of their owners are quite dead. And even their authors' efforts to use the Web to leave a permanent mark on this world has been thwarted. Kimveer Gill's page on VampireFreaks.com has now been taken down, replaced by this apt message: "This User Does Not Exist."
A version of this piece appears in the Washington Post Outlook section.
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