This wasn’t the way that Makenzie Tokes wanted to find out that her sister died.
“Extremely saddened to have found this out through social media and not the police,” her Instagram caption read. “Heaven has gained a true angel with you Reagan.”
The picture, of Makenzie Tokes and her sister Reagan, a fourth-year in psychology, as children in front of a birthday cake, was uploaded to Instagram at about 10 p.m. on Thursday night. Reagan had gone missing a little less than 24 hours earlier, after she left her shift at Bodega in the Short North.
The timeline of the search for information regarding Reagan Tokes — by police, friends and media — proved to be filled with a stream of mismatching updates, speculation and bullying, all available instantly over social media.
Digging for updates
The chase to find information about Reagan Tokes started on Thursday evening, after Makenzie Tokes posted a photo on Instagram and Twitter that afternoon, asking for help finding her sister. As journalists across Columbus raced for information, a Columbus Division of Police spokesman said he wasn’t aware of the case until right before The Lantern was ready to publish its first update at about 6:30 p.m.
Makenzie Tokes declined to comment for this article, citing instructions from police because of an ongoing investigation.
Emma Steele, a third-year in journalism and friend of Reagan Tokes, said she got a message at about 3:15 p.m. in her work’s group chat from one of Reagan Tokes’ roommates, asking if anyone had seen her. Tokes, Steele and the roommate, who declined to comment, all worked together at Fusian.
“We were kind of like, laughing,” Steele said, saying she didn’t think the message was serious at first. “Then we realized what she was saying, that no one could get ahold of (Tokes). They couldn’t find her car, her parents couldn’t get ahold of her. This was not good.”
Columbus police officers later came into Fusian asking about Tokes later that afternoon.
“There was speculating (on social media), a lot, which was frustrating.” — Emma Steele, third-year in journalism, friend of Reagan Tokes
At about 5:15 p.m., one of the co-workers told other employees that, according to the local news, a dead body was found in Grove City. It was a woman in her 20s, and she had a circle tattoo.
“We knew (Tokes) had that tattoo,” Steele said. “But nothing came out with the police and that tattoo until closer until about 8 p.m.”
At about 8 p.m., Grove City police officers came to Tokes’ apartment, Steele said, and they asked the roommates to match Tokes’ tattoo with the woman in Grove City. The police, at that point, still couldn’t say anything official because the coroner had not confirmed that the woman was indeed Tokes. That confirmation wouldn’t come from the Franklin County Coroner’s Office until Friday at about noon.
“They couldn’t say anything official, but it was pretty much unofficially official” that Tokes was dead, Steele said.
The whole time, Steele witnessed people speculating about the case on social media.
“There was speculating, a lot, which was frustrating,” Steele said, especially regarding the body in Grove City, before it had been identified as Tokes. “We were working with the police so we thought we should be hearing it first, so it was like, did they hear from someone official?”
Later that night, when journalists were connecting Reagan Tokes’ disappearance with the unidentified dead body in nearby Grove City, a Lantern reporter had to tell a Grove City police spokeswoman about the connection: Reagan’s car and the unidentified woman’s car, which were both missing at the time, had identical descriptions and stickers. At about 10:30 p.m., The Lantern confirmed, via Reagan Tokes’ roommates, that the license plate number of car connected to the dead woman in Grove City matched Tokes’ license plate
It wasn’t until Friday morning, when the coroner confirmed Tokes’ death, that the ordeal became real for Steele.
“None of us would say it, but we all really hoped that (it wasn’t Tokes). We could tell ourselves, deep down, that ‘It’s not official, you never know,’” she said. “It was this morning, NBC4i published a story with her name connected to Grove City, everyone was like there it is, there’s no going back, that’s it.”
Death in the digital age
But the internet isn’t just a place for journalists, friends and police racing for answers.
“Tbh she’s probably already dead by now… not trying to be a dick just preaching the truth,” reads a tweet from user @ThatLemonKid. “Sorry I guess.”
The tweet, sent to Makenzie Tokes, was posted at 7:14 a.m. on Friday morning, after she had already confirmed the worst.
Lemon would go on to defend himself in a back-and-forth exchange with Tokes.
“Well sorry for your loss Truly. I was just telling you the truth of what might’ve happened,” read one tweet. Another: “Not trying to be a dick. Yea the truth hurts but shit like this happens every day sorry again.”
When asked to delete his account by another user who found the reply chain, his response was “wow really I didn’t do anything,” complete with a laughing-crying emoji.
He did not respond to a request for comment.
Today my dad emailed me diploma frames and told me to pick one out and I'd be lying if I said I didn't tear up
— Reagan (@reagantokes) February 5, 2017
Steele said she hadn’t seen the tweets, but another comment came to mind.
“One of (Tokes’) roommates posted on Facebook back when she was missing,” she said. “Someone commented ‘I guess you guys didn’t pray hard enough.’”
As for Reagan Tokes, her last tweet, and the first thing that appears after anyone searches her on Twitter, shows a now-unfulfilled sense of hope forever stamped on the internet. It’s steadily gained more retweets and likes since her death, in a 21st-century addition to mourning.
“Today my dad emailed me diploma frames and told me to pick one out,” it reads. “And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up.”
And hanging on to that tweet, also forever stamped on the internet, is a reply from a random, diploma-framing website based in Connecticut.
“What an amazing Dad! Congrats on working hard & reaching for your dreams! #Dad #gradGift #EarnItFrameIt diplomaframe.com.”