Viral video spurs theories about tourist's death
Updated: 2013-03-07 11:54
By Chen Jia (China Daily)
Internet users in China have been transfixed by a video from an elevator's security camera of Canadian-Chinese tourist Elisa Lam, who was found dead last month inside the water tank atop a Los Angeles hotel.
Lam, 21, checked into the downtown Cecil Hotel on Jan 26 during a trip from her home in Vancouver, British Columbia, to Santa Cruz, California.
Five days later, according to Los Angeles police, a hotel surveillance camera recorded her entering a hotel elevator. The video, which has gone viral in China, shows Lam pushing the buttons for multiple floors and then peering out of the opened elevator door. She appears to be hiding or looking for someone.
The university student has been described by friends and classmates as a "lively girl with a cheerful character". But Lam's grieving family has been subjected to a barrage of theories posted on Chinese social media platforms by amateur sleuths who have seen the four-minute elevator video. Whatever led to her mysterious death, online speculation abounds.
Lam's naked body was found on Feb 19 in the rooftop water tank by a hotel worker checking out complaints of weak water pressure. An initial autopsy was conducted in Los Angeles, but authorities said toxicology tests would need to be performed before a cause of death could be determined. The tests are expected to take another four to six weeks.
The uncertainty hasn't deterred would-be detectives from weighing in online.
Some suggested that Lam had a secret crush on a heavy metal/rap musician named Morbid, who according to some media reports was living at the Cecil at the time of the young woman's death.
Others have noted the sordid history of the hotel, which was built in the 1920s in Los Angeles' seedy Skid Row neighborhood. Over the years, the Cecil has been the site of several suicides and violent crimes as well as the temporary home of killers such as Richard Ramirez, the "Night Stalker" who is now on California's death row from his 1985 conviction for a string of murders in California.
On China's popular Sina Weibo microblogging service, someone using the name GHOST_DU even described a visit to the scene of the tragedy.
"Honestly, I drive to the hotel and enjoy adventure with a friend not in spite of, but because of, recent news. It has a rich history of suicide, violent crime and now mysterious water-tank-death, so thought it would be a bit of a thrill-seeking expedition," GHOST_DU wrote in a post that included a photo from the visit. "I spilled some wine and coins on the way back and hope Lam rests in peace. I slept 24 hours when I came back, and now I keep sneezing and suffering from a weird stomachache."
Many Weibo users left messages below a photo of the Cecil Hotel and complimented GHOST_DU as a brave person.
On Feb 27, the official China Youth Daily published an editorial criticizing Chinese Internet users for failing to show respect or sympathy to the victim's family. "How long we will keep consuming Lam's death?" the newspaper asked.
Users, however, have continued discussing things like their plans to add the Cecil to sightseeing trips in Los Angeles. "Exciting" and "mysterious" have been used in these posts.
This is hardly the kind of attention from China envisioned by California's tourism industry, which is touting social media as a way to reach the leading source of foreign visitors to the state.
Just weeks after Lam went missing, Visit California, a nonprofit group that handles marketing for the state's Travel and Tourism Commission, announced a $1.6 million marketing campaign in China.
The group recently issued a report showing that websites and social media are top sources of information among Chinese considering a California trip.
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