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Online sleuths help investigation into gay couple’s beating

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia police searching for a group of people suspected in the beating of a gay couple got an outpouring of help from Twitter and Facebook users, who located a photo of the clean-cut young men and women at a restaurant and helped match names to faces.

A defense lawyer said some of the suspects would turn themselves in Wednesday for questioning.

A security video of the group strolling downtown was posted by police Tuesday and set the online community to work.

Within hours, a Twitter user posted a photo of the well-dressed men and women gathered at a restaurant on the night of the attack. Social media users soon figured out which restaurant, used Facebook to find people who had “checked in” there, and started coming up with the names of those pictured.

“This is how Twitter is supposed to work for cops,” Detective Joe Murray tweeted late Tuesday as the crowd-sourced investigation exploded online. “I will take a couple thousand Twitter detectives over any one real detective any day.”

“Love the outpouring of social media sleuthing happening in our city tonight! Let’s keep it up!” another department posting said.

The victims, a gay couple in their late 20s, were held down, punched and beaten after they bumped into a group of about a dozen people on the street Thursday night, just blocks from a part of town known affectionately as “the Gayborhood.” Members of the group hurled gay slurs as the men were pummeled, police said.

One man was left with a broken eye socket and a wired jaw, while his partner had bruises and a black eye.

The defense lawyer, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he has not been formally retained, suggested the fight could have stemmed from random contact and was not a hate crime.

He said he was contacted by a potential client early Tuesday, before police posted the video. He said the group consisted largely of working professionals.

Philadelphia police routinely seek the public’s help with criminal investigations through Twitter, YouTube, a department website and other online forums.

Murray, a Twitter pioneer within the department who is prone to effusive shout-outs, later updated his tweets to thank the detectives involved and to note that no one had been arrested.

“Let’s be clear here,” he tweeted. “Detectives have done a ton of work and have a lot more to do. (Not a law & order episode).”

Officer Christine O’Brien, a police spokeswoman, said Wednesday that security videos and social media have helped the department solve many cases over the years.

“While it’s great how many people are coming forward — and we want to encourage them to do that — it’s not unusual,” she said.

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