Recently, FoxNews.com reported that John Mark Karr,  a cleared suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case and reputed pedophile, was the subject of a new national law enforcement investigation because he’s trying to “create a cult of JonBenet Ramsey lookalikes.”

Tragically, Karr’s sick obsession with JonBenet Ramsey is part of a larger epidemic that started over a decade ago when her murder was highly publicized by the national media.

There are currently over 200,000 Google hits for “JonBenet Ramsey,” a “JonBenet Ramsey News” site with links to multiple discussion forums about the little girl and even a Satanic musical group named after her that sings lyrics about pedophilic sexual molestation.

All of this, coupled with the past 13 years of relentless, tabloid media analysis and baseless theories proposed by so called “experts” who never even worked on the case is the strange undercurrent that came from JonBenet’s death.

It has resulted in the glamorization of one child’s tragic death and transformed her into a poster child for pedophiles, sadomasochists and people obsessed with true crime.

My first observation of this sick phenomenon was in 1997 shortly after I hit the ground in Boulder as a young investigative reporter fresh out of college.

Only a few months after JonBenet’s murder I observed a Denver television network – along with the cooperation of law enforcement – create a false AIM screen-name called “Kid-Love.” After entering a random AOL chat-room, several pedophiles instant messaged the fake profile to discuss their fantasies, and in almost every conversation the name JonBenet surfaced.

Almost no one could believe it, but that was only a miniscule example of what became an online obsession with the little girl.

Soon, more chat rooms were created, even by non-pedophiles – bored housewives playing detective who were disturbingly obsessed with the JonBenet sub-culture and relevant figures in the Ramsey case, especially her family.

With the increase in social utilities like Facebook and Twitter, those online sensations remain, and members of JonBenet’s family are continuously stalked with bits and pieces of their personal lives and whereabouts exposed.

As of late, one chat room was posting pictures of JonBenet’s older brother who was only nine-years old at the time of her death. Now that the young man is graduating from college, some people are determined to stalk him and locate his whereabouts. Their obsession is disgusting, fanatical, insensitive and cruel.

In 1997, then Boulder Police Chief Tom Koby said that he was disappointed the JonBenet Ramsey case had become a curiosity to some people. “Quite frankly, it is a sick curiosity in some ways,” he added at a press conference. At the time, I thought Chief Koby didn’t see the merit in this fascinating and important story that was continuing to unfold in front of us.

Now, 13 years later, I realize that I was the one who didn’t see clearly.

JonBenet’s death was unquestionably a tragedy that warranted journalistic investigation, but it was really only a tragedy felt by those who knew her and loved her. Many of us in the media and in law enforcement who wanted to avenge her legitimately believed we could help, and maybe – maybe – on some level we actually did when our research occasionally helped law enforcement.

Sadly, there’s more to it than that, and I realize that now.

JonBenet was a real person. She was a little girl who lived and loved like the rest of us. She laughed and she cried. She went to school and she played when she got home. She was a real human being.

Millions of Americans however, have turned her into an icon, a symbol, and even a sick, sexualized object of obsession. She has been immortalized within a cult much like the Kennedy assassination, Sharon Tate murder and the deaths of Jim Morrison and John Lennon, but in a perverse way.

Just think for one moment how it would feel if your six-year old daughter or sister was brutally tortured, sexually assaulted and murdered – and was then talked about, obsessed over and even sexualized. It’s almost incomprehensible to imagine the pain, heartbreak and outrage the Ramsey family must continue to feel.

For them, the memory of her murder lives on every day of their lives.That’s not fair.

We may not know conclusively who killed JonBenet Ramsey, but we do know that her family members still feel the pain of their loss. The news media has a right and responsibility to continue covering the investigation when there’s valid news, and if the justice system ever determines whom her killer is, that person should be identified and brought to justice if they’re still alive or within law enforcement’s reach.

Other than that however, JonBenet’s family deserves peace and privacy. It’s time to leave JonBenet – and her family alone.

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is an investigative journalist and former Washington, D.C. prosecutor who has researched and reported the JonBenet Ramsey case for 13 years.

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