When you think of TikTok, you probably think of a bunch of mirthless dancing teenagers rocking looks lifted straight out of a YouTube makeup tutorial video who are moments away from saying something offensive that'll upend their e-fame and toss them back right back into the pit of obscurity.
But the video sharing platform has another side, where folks share helpful knowledge that have changed people's lives for the better. And for Sarah Turney, it helped solve her sister's cold murder case.
TikTok solved a murder case, thanks to Sarah Turney's persistence.
In 2001, 17-year-old Alissa Turney vanished from her high school in Phoenix, Ariz. Police at the time had assumed that the teen had run away from home. Her younger sister Sarah, who was 12-years-old at the time, knew better.
When it became apparent that Alissa was not only not coming back home, but that there was no trace of her, her closest friends, family members, and authorities feared the worst.
As years progressed, Sarah began using social media in the hopes of gleaning any information she could that could help locate Sarah's killer. She launched a Facebook group, an Instagram account, and a blog called "Justice for Alissa." She published true crime podcasts ("Voices for Justice"), and would record her own videos that shared all of the details surrounding the case as well as context on an individual she came to believe was the prime suspect in Alissa's murder.
Sarah Turney's efforts began taking off once she started posting videos to TikTok.
That suspect was her stepfather, Michael Turney, and she even attended CrimeCon to help glean more information that could help her investigate his possible part in Alissa's murder even further. It wasn't until she began publishing videos on TikTok until she finally started to get potential leads to capture the culprit.
In her videos, Sarah focused purely "on the facts" of the case. She and Alissa lived with their stepdad, Michael, after their mother, Barbara Strahm, had died of cancer.
Sarah recalled the day that Alissa had disappeared: Her usually put-together room was ransacked, and all that was left was her Nokia cell phone and a note that said she had gone to California to try and make a life for herself alone. Police classified the teen as a runaway.
But then, seven years later, officers discovered two silencers, explosive devices, and pipe bombs in Michael's home. In a 2009 interview, Alissa's stepfather stated he planned to kill himself as a means of drawing attention to her disappearance.
He denied having anything to do with her murder in a 2009 ABC interview.
"They have no proof whatsoever of anything other than rumors and innuendos and lies. There's only two people that can confirm whether I did it, and one is me, and the other is Alissa. Alissa's not here and I'm sitting here and all I can say until hell freezes over, I didn't do a damned thing to my daughter," he said.
He was sentenced to prison for seven years for possession of the weapons and was released. Since then, Sarah has been uploading videos about her sister's disappearance, including VHS footage where Alissa says, "Dad's a pervert," four years prior to her disappearance as the three of them played outside, indicating that Michael had been abusing Alissa for some time.
She also had a conversation with Michael in 2017 at a Starbucks and recorded their dialogue in the hopes of extrapolating some further information about Alissa's disappearance. Her videos had amassed hundreds of thousands of views among her million-plus followers. She's been carefully compiling facts, leads, and evidence pertaining to Michael and the alleged part he played in Alissa's death.
All of the hard work that Sarah put into the case was compiled and submitted to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which, in late 2019, indicted Michael Turney.
At a press conference announcing the developments in the cold case, Attorney Allister Adel said, "Sarah Turney, your perseverance and commitment to finding justice for your sister Alissa is a testament to the love of a sister, because of that love, Alissa's light has never gone out and she lives on in the stories and photos you've shared with the community."
She continued, "This passion you have demonstrated to her during your journey is something that will keep Alissa's memory alive forever."
Sarah has stated she "won't ever stop" posting videos until her sister's murderer is brought to justice.