Originally Posted Online: Aug. 06, 2009, 6:01 pm
Last Updated: Aug. 06, 2009, 9:27 pm

In Search of Zach: Is story of missing man just an Internet hoax?

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By Christina Salter, csalter@qconline.com

This poster from www.zwatch.org asks for help in finding 21-year-old Zacharia Furio of Davenport. The Web site, and the missing man, may be an internet hoax.
Pleas for more information about the disappearance of Zacharia Furio, 21, are all over the Internet -- but does the Davenport man really exist?

E-mails and MySpace posts about Mr. Furio's disappearance have circulated in the Quad-Cities claiming he has been missing since July 10. The messages refer to www.zwatch.org, a Web site devoted to his disappearance.

According to the site, Mr. Furio is an intern for the "QC Department of Biological Sciences." "However, no organization by that name exists. A close match is the Department of Biological Sciences at the Western Illinois University-Quad Cities campus in Moline. But a spokesperson for the WIU payroll department said they had no record of a Zacharia Furio working for WIU.

No missing persons reports have been filed with the Davenport or Moline police departments. Asearch of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database turns up nothing.

Zwatch.org displays the logo for the National Center for Missing Adults, but a search of that missing adult database also draws a blank.

Zwatch.org displays the logo for the National Center for Missing Adults, but a search of that missing adult database also draws a blank.

Further discrepancies exist within the emails about Zacharia. A poster from the site, often included in the e-mails, spells the man's name "Zachariah." But the contents of the emails, as well as the site, spells his name "Zacharia."

The Web site states it was created "by friends and family of Zacharia Furio...If you can help in the search or have any information, please contact:contact@zwatch.org." E-mails from the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus to the address, however, have not been answered, and the site -- registered anonymously through a wholesale domain name registrar -- lists no other contact information.

The site makes some strange claims about the man's disappearance. A July 29 post states, "We've found Zacharia's Twitter page. Before Zacharia's disappearance he posted information regarding to his internship at the QC Department of Biological Sciences." The post goes on to list Twitter postings from zachattack0, including July 2: "debriefing for new project. special access card, fancy," and July 9: "testing new specimen tomorrow."

The listed Twitter page, however, does not exist.

Zwatch.org visitors can view several pictures of Zacharia, who is described as a white man 5'6", 165 pounds, with brown hair and green eyes. Other posts on the site refer to "suspicious circumstances of his disappearance" and a "lack of cooperation from the local police department."

The most recent post, dated Wednesday, discusses a "declined request for information" about a pending missing persons report with the City of Davenport. A picture accompanies the post, showing a letter dated Aug. 4 from the Davenport city clerk addressed to Adrian Furio.

But Jackie Holecek, Davenport's deputy city clerk, said the letter did not come from her office.

Assuming Mr. Furio's story is only an elaborate prank, it would not be the first of its kind. Snopes.com, a popular urban legends Web site, lists dozens of examples of hoax chain e-mails that begged for help finding missing people. The e-mails generally involve heartfelt pleas to help find children who don't exist or who were never actually missing.

According to Snopes.com, when false missing person e-mails are forwarded over and over and start to spread, they often lead to hundreds of phone calls that waste the time of police departments and missing person organizations.