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Susan Powell

WEST VALLEY CITY — Friends and family of Susan Powell want the search for the missing mother of two to go viral.

Starting at 8 a.m. Monday and continuing for the next 72 hours, a social media blitz will be launched with the hope of spreading Powell's image throughout the Internet. The three-pronged plan calls for doubling the number of friends on the "Friends and Family of Susan Powell" Facebook page, using Twitter to spread the reward poster for Powell and telling people about a Susan Powell YouTube page through e-mail.

"We are asking those who are following to forward the e-mail on to at least five of their friends from their address book and include links to the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels," said James Hofheins, one of the event organizers. "In the subject line, put 'Forward to five friends.' "

In conjunction with the social media blitz, a purple ribbon campaign will be launched to keep Powell in the public eye. Facebook users are being asked to change their profile pictures to a purple ribbon for Powell.

Powell has been missing since Dec. 7. West Valley Police have labeled Josh Powell, Susan Powell's husband, as a person of interest in the case. His odd behavior and failure to cooperate with police have made him the focus of public scrutiny.

Josh Powell told police he went camping after midnight on Dec. 7 with the Powells' two boys, ages 2 and 4, in a remote area of Tooele County. He returned the following afternoon, after failing to go to work, to find police already at his house looking for the family.

Utah has had several high-profile missing person cases over the past eight years, including Elizabeth Smart, Lori Hacking and Destiny Norton. But social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter either weren't around or were in their infancy at those times.

Ed Smart — father of Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and held hostage for nine months before being found — says the use of such social media tools in missing person cases is still too new to know exactly what effect a media blitz will have. But he said anything that gets Susan Powell's picture out in the public is good.

"The number one thing in finding a person is getting her picture out there," he said. "It's a means of getting information out when a case has not gone national. It's a big plus."

In Susan Powell's case, her story has been featured on network newscasts and talk shows. But Smart said getting her picture out on the Web has the possibility of reaching an entirely different audience who might not watch TV.

The Salt Lake City Police Department has been one of the leaders among Utah law enforcement agencies in establishing its own Myspace, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages.

"A lot of people get news through the Internet instead of traditional media," said Sgt. Robin Snyder. "The younger generation is more likely to get information off the Internet than watch the news on TV or read the newspaper."

SLCPD's Web sites already have seen success. The case of the so-called "Hipster Grifter," Kari Ferrell, was solved because of the Internet, Snyder said. Ferrell, from Utah, was wanted for a series of felony theft and fraud charges. Her online postings while she was on the run made her an Internet celebrity, but also eventually led to her capture.

"You never know which ones will go viral," Snyder said. "The more people you get looking, it can't hurt. Anytime you can reach out to a broader audience, your chance of finding a suspect or missing person increases."

With the Internet, people around the world can see information in seconds, she said, whereas a local newscast is only going to reach people in a select area.

West Valley Police Assistant Chief Craig Black said the social media sites also have become an important tool for investigators working the Powell case.

"It's a vast amount of information," he said.

That much information can be both beneficial and time consuming, Black said. Some tips are more helpful than others. Black said people need to remember that their investigation is not going to be resolved in 60 minutes, as it is on a TV show.

"It's been a situation that has required a great deal of resources to monitor and review tips that come in," he said. "It certainly provides insight into people who were her friends and acquaintances. It's given us a variety of new avenues to look at, where in the past it may have taken us several months to collect the same information."

As for the social media blitz, Black said he's in favor of anything that will help bring Susan Powell back.

"We don't ever claim we know every single avenue and every single option. We work in partnership with our community, whether that community is West Valley or the international technological community. It's very helpful in some regards to have access to people's ideas and thoughts," Black said.

e-mail: preavy@desnews.com