How TikTok Helped Solve A Cold Case

When 17-year-old Alissa Turney (shown above) never returned home on the last day of school on May 17, 2001, she was reported as a runaway. She had lived with her 12-year-old sister, Sarah, and their father Michael Turney, who had legally adopted Alissa after the sisters' mother Barbara Strahm died of cancer in 1992, per the Phoenix New Times. Sarah and Michael found Alissa's normally tidy room ransacked with a note reading "Dad and Sarah, When you dropped me off at school today, I decided I really am going to California. Sarah, you said you really wanted me gone — now you have it. Dad, I took $300 from you. That's why I saved my money." Alissa had discussed moving to California to live with an aunt in the past, as she didn't get along with Michael Turney. Turney, a former Deputy Sherriff in Maricopa County, Arizona, reported Alissa as a runaway. 

A week later, her sister still missing, Sarah made a website asking for tips and leads to help find Alissa. When the case went cold, authorities recommended that Sarah use social media to keep Alissa and her case fresh in people's minds. She took to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with the user name "Justice For Alissa" and raised funds for a highway billboard. In 2019, encouraged by the true-crime community, she started a podcast called "Voices of Justice" which she called "my last-ditch effort to get this case to move forward." The true breakthrough, however, came thanks to Sarah's clever use of short videos on TikTok.

"It took almost 20 years but we did it."

Authorities seemingly first took seriously the possibility that Michael Turney was responsible for his daughter Alissa's disappearance in 2008 when, as reported by Distractify, Turney was arrested after officers found two silencers, explosive devices, and pipe bombs in his house. In a 2009 ABC interview, he claimed he was planning to kill himself in order to bring more attention to his missing daughter's case and denied any involvement: "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."

Upon Michael Turney's release from prison after serving seven years for weapons possession, Sarah Turney continued uploading videos concerning her sister's case, including a video of Alissa saying "Dad's a pervert" four years before her disappearance, and a 2017 conversation Sarah and her father had in a Starbucks in which she attempted to get more information. It wasn't until she began using TikTok that she started getting leads. Sarah compiled these, along with facts and other evidence, and submitted them to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. On August 20, 2020, per the New Phoenix Times, Michael Turney was arrested on a second-degree murder charge. Sarah Turney tweeted that very day "I'm shaking and I'm crying. We did it, you guys. He's been arrested ... Never give up hope that you can get justice. It took almost 20 years but we did it."