Missing Kate 

Joshua McDaniel's Web posting is a tribute for the dead — and for the living, a sustained goodbye.

click to enlarge news36_mayspace_100.jpg

She is Emily "Kate" Robertson, the 21-year-old woman who much of Richmond watched via security video footage getting into a Pontiac Firebird Aug. 25 at Short Pump Town Center. Three days later, Robertson was found murdered, her body half-naked and face down in a creek in Goochland County.

While the case is still under investigation — the prime suspect, 37-year-old John M. Snyder, fatally shot himself Aug. 28, the day Robertson's body was discovered — the grieving process for family and friends of Robertson has only just begun.

Robertson was — and her friend, McDaniel, remains — among the 60 million users of MySpace.com, the popular Web site that has become a part of popular culture, the new social parking lot for teenagers and young adults — even actors, bands and businesses — across the country.

When tragedy strikes, its users also grieve online. McDaniel has taken to his MySpace blog to play back moments in his head, to eulogize, to grieve, to connect.

McDaniel says he's straight-edge, meaning he doesn't drink, smoke or use drugs. He has "31 hours" worth of tattoos on his body, he says, including a red cardinal he got by pawning his TV for $100. The intermittent Virginia Commonwealth University student and his roommates rent a house in Oregon Hill, the same neighborhood where McDaniel grew up.

A friend told McDaniel about Robertson's disappearance while he was at a rap show Aug. 26, a Saturday. It was his 21st birthday. He thought about Robertson's whereabouts on his walk home, alone. "The biggest conflict for me was: Should I feel better or worse that Kate's so tough?" McDaniel recalls.

Robertson also was a user of MySpace. She apparently logged onto her MySpace site for the last time Aug. 15 — 10 days before she went missing. Taylor Behl also had a MySpace page. The page notes that she logged in to it Sept. 4, 2005, the day before she died after disappearing from VCU. It's still active a year later, with "friends" Behl may or may not have known posting messages on her page to say how sorry they are that she's gone, that they miss her.

As macabre and callous as it sounds, it's only a matter of time before Robertson follows Behl and becomes the latest entry on MyDeathSpace.com, a controversial site memorializing dead MySpace users by linking their online profiles to newspaper accounts of their deaths. The often-tragic details read as eerie antidotes to the concomitant, carefree and pensive musings of youth.

"I feel like people are misinterpreting MySpace," McDaniel says, referring to reports gleaned from Robertson's online profile indicating she frequented Shockoe Bottom clubs. "Kate was just another 21-year-old girl who likes to go with friends to bars downtown."

Her MySpace page from April 2005 posts what appears to be a dictionary listing with her name followed by the words "hard-core grave robber." And just like most MySpace pages you see, Robertson's contains everything from beer-guzzling photos to crude language to screw-the-establishment dictums.

Unlike newspaper obits, the online musings can be brutal reminders of the true personalities of the deceased. After learning of her death, McDaniel began to spill memories and thoughts of "Kate" back out into cyberspace.

On Aug. 30 he posted:

"I don't get why it isn't okay to be who you are after you've died. Why can't you be Kate who was rowdy and funny and liked to goof on people? Why can't you be who we remember you to be? Why do we have to airbrush you now? You were fine just the way you were. There are a million memories I want to talk about, but it feels so weird trying to put our friendship out in public view. ... That was you Kate, always thinking about people in trouble. That was you Kate, beautiful but never fake. That was you Kate, rowdy and fun and never afraid…."

McDaniel says that in the first six hours after he posted his reflection, 250 people logged on. One friend called and broke down over the phone. "I don't know if that's a good thing, that he needed that cathartic moment," McDaniel says.

"The Internet story is more close to the real thing than what's in the newspaper," he says, pointing to the clippings he says he'll put in a scrapbook. He flips through a photo album documenting his high-school years. McDaniel went to Thomas Jefferson High School; Robertson went to Saint Gertrude High School. Their paths crossed and remained entangled. It's why she appears in McDaniel's photographs, posing "gangsta"-like in one, at an after-prom party in another, and in her bathing suit, without her signature jeans on, in another. There is innocence in those pictures.

When Robertson disappeared, McDaniel says he began text-messaging her repeatedly, hundreds of times: "Kate, you're missing, I don't know where you are." He calls it his high-tech prayer. "Everybody wants to talk and hopes somebody's listening." SS

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