The Short Life and Viral Death of Bianca Devins
O n Instagram she was “escty,” the Lolita goth princess, pouting and preening next to heart-shaped handcuffs, Louis Vuitton-branded handguns, and bound-and-gagged Hello Kittys. She was also “beegtfo,” the girl next door, mugging with her sister in Christmas photos, donning pastel barrettes and holding her toddler half-sister to her hip. She was “oxiecontin,” the teen queen of darkness, boozy-eyed and bruise-kneed in short plaid skirts and Converse, smoking and rolling her eyes as her world collapsed around her (“literally so tired and everything’s annoying and I’m going through an episode lol,” she wrote).
On Tumblr she was “switchblades,” on 4chan she was “Oxy,” on Snapchat she was “virgovenus,” and on Discord she was “bia.” The people who loved her called her Bia, or Bee. Those who hated her (mostly men, mostly strangers) called her an e-whore, or a BPD (borderline personality disorder) slut, or a “roastie,” incel slang for a sexually active woman. Because she grew up on the internet, where such slurs are the currency of the chronically irate, she’d learned not to mind this so much. “When people call me things like bpd slut it’s kinda funny . . . and hot. and i oop,” she wrote on the anonymous Q&A app Tellonym, referencing a meme, intending to convey mock embarrassment.
In real life, the girl stole Trump 2016 signs from her neighbor’s lawn and helped organize a student walkout after the Parkland shooting. She’d spend hours counseling a teenage girl she’d never met through her mental-health issues, or drawing a stranger’s portrait; an overweight, bullied kid in her earth-science class would later say that she was the only girl in high school to have ever been nice to him. She loved babies, kittens, chocolate-fudge brownies, The Breakfast Club, and buying pastel wigs to do cosplay shoots with her best friend; the only thing she struggled to love was herself.
The girl’s real name, the one that people would later learn for all the wrong reasons, was Bianca Michelle Devins. She was only 17 years old when she died, and she spent most of her very short life trying to build one that was, if not happier, more compelling, strange, and beautiful than her own.
Bianca Devins lived and died in Utica, an upstate New York city about an hour east of Syracuse. Formerly an industrial powerhouse, Utica, which has a population of about 62,000, suffered a major economic downturn along with other Rust Belt cities during the mid- to late-20th century, and has yet to fully recover. It’s well-known for college hockey, its large Italian population (“Utica greens,” or escarole sautéed with prosciutto and sundry spices, is a popular regional dish), and its relatively high crime rate. “You turn on the news and there’s usually something about someone getting shot,” says Rachel Shanley, one of Bianca’s middle school friends. Though the state has invested millions into a revitalization project as thousands of immigrants and refugees reinvigorate the city, Utica often appears downcast, regardless of the weather. On a crisp, 64-degree September day, the streets were void of pedestrians, even as the sun shone bright in the sky.
But the city also fosters allegiance among natives — though some people complain about it, many choose to stay. “It’s a very comfortable area to live and to raise kids,” says Tom Holt, Bianca’s cousin. “A lot of times people say, ‘Oh, I gotta go away and go to a big school,’ but there is opportunity down here.” Bianca wasn’t in a rush to leave, either. At the time of her death, she was slated to attend Mohawk Valley Community College, a school 15 minutes away from her home, to major in psychology. “She was going to come home to do laundry,” says her mother, Kim, 36, in her living room. “She didn’t want to be too far away from us.”
The Devins’ four-bedroom home is warm and overcrowded, with flower appliqués and framed adages on the walls, a pastel plush unicorn, and multicolored Legos strewn on the floor. When I visit, the living room is covered in orange-and-black papier-mâché pumpkins and streamers, even though Halloween is more than a month away. Kim and her younger daughter, Olivia, share the home with her friend Kaleigh Rimmer, the ex-girlfriend of Kim’s ex-husband, Mike; Rimmer’s ex Cody Meulengracht; and Rimmer’s four children, who clamber in and out of the living room throughout the afternoon. It’s easy to imagine why a teenage girl would spend time holed up in a tiny room, playing Minecraft and being sad and talking to other sad kids on the internet, which is, in fact, what Bianca spent much of her time doing.
A former human-resources and payroll manager, Kim grew up just a few blocks away from where she now lives. She got pregnant with Bianca when she was a 17-year-old Catholic-school junior, and had only been dating her ex, Mike, now a mechanic, for a few months; Kim shows me a photo of her right before her pregnancy, dressed up for an ’NSync concert with her hair in two buns.
When Kim found out she was pregnant, she was terrified. But there was never any question as to whether she would continue with the pregnancy. “My mom always said she knew she wanted to be a mom,” she says. “It’s all she ever wanted to do. And I always felt like that too.”
Bianca was born October 2nd, 2001, and Olivia, or Liv, Bianca’s younger sister, arrived two years later. Bianca adored her younger sister and was highly protective of her; Kim says that even while she was pregnant with Liv, Bianca would proudly show off the sonogram photo of her “sissy.”
In 2010, Kim says, she and Mike split up for the first time. Mike was “emotionally abusive,” she alleges, and Utica police say Kim filed multiple domestic-incident complaints. As Bianca, Kim’s self-appointed defender, got older, she increasingly bore the brunt of his anger, according to Kim. Mike left for good in 2015, maintaining little contact with Bianca. (Mike Devins did not return multiple requests for comment.)
Kim says Bianca was relieved by her father’s departure, but also felt abandoned by him. “When he was in her life, he was a good dad,” says Kim. “When he wasn’t, he wasn’t. He was out.” (Both Bianca’s best friend, Gianna Murray, and Gianna’s mother, Erica, confirm this assessment.)
According to Kim, Bianca’s struggles with mental illness began when she entered middle school at Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School. Although Bianca had experienced separation anxiety in third grade, she had been relatively extroverted and popular until she reached adolescence, at which point “she just lost interest in everything,” Kim says. Though Bianca would open up to a select few who shared her love of anime or drawing or the Japanese virtual singing app Vocaloid, most people who knew her in middle or high school viewed her as shy and anxious, and Rachel Shanley says that she was “kinda on her own.”
Kim says she took Bianca to a series of therapists, most of whom were unable to help her. She says it was Bianca’s difficulty navigating the mental-health-care system that led to her eventually deciding to study psychology at community college.
In ninth grade, Bianca transferred to Thomas R. Proctor High School, a public school with more than 2,700 students, because her family could no longer afford Notre Dame’s tuition after the divorce. Despite her striking appearance and 5-foot-10 frame, at Proctor, Bianca was not known as one of the popular girls. “She wasn’t the five-four, tan, Italian, dark-hair-to-her-butt pretty, which is the standard pretty in upstate New York,” says Mae Scialdone, a local photographer who mentored Bianca. “Up here, more people saw her as different, like, ‘What’s up with that girl?’”
One person who felt otherwise was Derek Ward, a soft-spoken, tattooed Robert Pattinson look-alike who worked for a time at a plastics company in Utica. Ward and Bianca started dating their freshman year. “I could tell her anything,” he says. “She was probably the best therapist I ever had.” As their relationship progressed, they also bonded over their chaotic family lives. “She’d tell me how she would babysit the kids,” Ward says. “I mean, there’s a lot of kids in that house. [That’s] a lot of stuff to put on one person’s plate.”
Those in Utica who knew Bianca said that she was a supportive and kindhearted friend. But they also described her behavior as occasionally erratic. Some of it was mildly eccentric, even charming, and could be attributed to the quirks of an offbeat teenage girl, such as her fondness for cutting off all of her hair and dyeing it on a whim, or running around Walmart with a lampshade on her head. Some of it, however, was concerning. Bianca’s friends tell me she had a tendency to lie about minor details of her life, explaining to one high school friend that she was Jewish and on the autism spectrum or, according to an ex-boyfriend, claiming that she was of Cuban and Asian descent.
Ward’s friend Devon Barnes says that Bianca had become paranoid about Ward talking to other girls, and that Ward and Bianca would frequently fight. Their relationship ended when she abruptly cut off all contact with him, ghosting him and their friends without explanation and disappearing from school for weeks at a time.
Such behavior is consistent with borderline personality disorder, an illness characterized by emotional instability, negative self-image, impulsive behavior, and fear of abandonment. While Bianca wouldn’t be officially diagnosed with BPD until 2018, Kim says, by high school her mental illness had reached the point that she was no longer willing to leave the house. Around that time, a therapist diagnosed Bianca with post-traumatic stress disorder, and Cody Meulengracht says she was triggered by loud noises and shouting. “By the time she’d be ready to go to school, she’d have a panic attack and say, ‘I can’t do it,’” Kim says. “Or she’d end up in the nurse’s office and have to come home.” In 2017, midway through Bianca’s sophomore year, Kim decided to enroll her in a homebound tutoring program.
Stuck at home all day, Bianca began to further retreat into her online world. “She would just always be on her phone,” says Gianna Murray, one of the few people Bianca had contact with during this time. “Like, if I brought people over, she didn’t know how to interact, I guess.” On Tumblr, she crafted elaborate identities for herself, which varied widely in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. These identities, it seems, were part teen-girl experimentation, part safeguards against doxxing or harassment, and part self-marketing tool. “She’d always create a persona that would best suit who she’s talking to or the community she’s talking to that would keep them interested,” says Young Shim, one of Bianca’s longtime online acquaintances. “So they’d feel like, ‘Hey, I have a really cool best friend that I can relate to.’ ”
But the persona that ended up getting the most attention was one that was very similar to who Bianca really was: a sweet, shy, nerdy girl who was young, beautiful, and very, very sad.
When reports of Bianca’s murder began to emerge, the media referred to her as an “Instagram celebrity,” which was largely incorrect: Bianca had only about 2,000 followers — not insignificant, but far from a huge following. There was, however, one community where she did achieve some degree of notoriety: 4chan, the anonymous image-board community.
Today, 4chan is widely known as a bastion of far-right extremism. But this perception largely stems from /pol/, the board known as a recruiting ground for white nationalists, says Joshua Citarella, a researcher who studies online communities and Gen Z culture. While not everyone on 4chan harbors far-right views, they tend to dominate discussions on many other boards, such as /r9k/, which Bianca frequented. “The far-right propaganda that’s on 4chan just kind of leaked into /r9k/ along with the racism and misogyny that really flourishes on /pol/ specifically,” says Citarella.
Ostensibly, /r9k/ is a forum for posting original content. In practice, however, it’s “a bunch of loner-type people hanging around talking about being depressed and why they’re depressed,” says Shim, who met Bianca on Discord in 2016. It is also predominantly male, which means that girls on /r9k/ often garner large followings in a short amount of time. These girls tend to share similar characteristics: They are slender, round-eyed, and overwhelmingly white, with a fondness for cosplay and/or Japanese- or Korean-inspired fashion. (They are frequently referred to as “egirls,” a term that describes an emo-anime aesthetic, but more often than not is used in a derogatory, sexualized context.)
Perhaps above all else, however, the popular girls on /r9k/ have two major things in common: They tend to struggle with mental illness, and they tend to be very, very young. “A lot of us get roped into it when we’re 13, 14,” says Bianca’s online friend Chloe Frazier. “Because we’re so lonely in real life and have issues that prevent us from being socially fulfilled in other ways, we stay in these communities. And it’s hard for us to get out.”
Despite their young age, many of these girls attract older male devotees, or “orbiters,” who “worship younger girls,” says Erica Rose, one of Bianca’s online friends who also frequented /r9k/. “They idolize them, and they become obsessed with them.” Often, orbiters will send girls gifts, money, or drugs, usually expecting some form of attention or, at the very least, nude photos in return. If the girl does anything that somehow deviates from an orbiter’s perception of her, the retaliation is dramatic, usually involving her being doxxed or her nudes being leaked. Some girls told me about orbiters threatening them with violence, or arriving at their homes unannounced. One girl told me that an orbiter called in a mass-shooting threat to her school. For these young women, “being engaged in these communities is an ego boost,” says Citarella. “But it’s also a kind of self-harm.”
Bianca, in particular, was well-known for engaging with her orbiters. “She was too nice to ignore people like that,” says Chloe, “even too nice sometimes.”
Bianca tended to leave doors open online that should have stayed shut. Another ex-boyfriend (we’ll call him Rob), who asked to remain anonymous due to potential legal issues, says they met in early 2017 on 4chan’s /soc/ board, a forum for meetups and hookups. “I was fucking lonely,” says Rob, who was 18 to Bianca’s 15. “She was lonely too.” Within a week, he says, Bianca asked Rob to be her boyfriend. They dated on and off for the next two years.
In August 2017, Bianca ran away to Long Island, where Rob lived. By tracking Bianca’s phone activity and enlisting the help of a private investigator, Kim was able to track her down. Kim says when Bianca found out that police were looking for her, she attempted to run in front of a car, which led to her being institutionalized at a mental-health facility in Nassau County for five days.
According to Kim, Bianca’s friends, and Rob himself, Bianca and Rob had a toxic relationship. Rob struggled with substance abuse and bipolar disorder, and the two “would feed off each other,” Kim says. She and Bianca’s friends also accused Rob of stalking Bianca, attempting to access her social media accounts, and showing up at her door unannounced. (Rob denies stalking her, and says that Bianca gave him the passwords to her accounts.)
That winter, Bianca broke up with Rob after he accused her of messaging other guys. According to Bianca’s online friends, he retaliated by sending people on Discord sexually explicit content featuring him and Bianca — who was 15 at the time it was shot — without her consent. (He admits to posting the content, though claims he thought Bianca was going to share it as well.) Bianca showed screenshots to her mother, and the two reported Rob to the police. Later, after Rob threatened suicide, Bianca refused to cooperate with the investigation. “She wasn’t making decisions that made sense,” Kim says.
Despite Rob’s actions, Bianca kept running away to be with him: According to Utica police, Kim filed at least three missing-person reports for her daughter between August 2017 and June 2018. When asked why Bianca kept returning to him, Rob says simply: “She was very lonely, and she didn’t really have anybody at the time. I was like the only option, lesser of two evils. She could be alone or be with me.”
Around this time, Kim says, Bianca told one of her mental-health counselors that she had fantasized about going to a parking garage and jumping off the roof. She was subsequently placed in Pinefield, a psychiatric facility in Utica, for a month. By all accounts, Bianca enjoyed her time in Pinefield; her family brought her pizza and wings, and she was considered popular within the facility. “She actually said, ‘This is the first time in years that I feel like I have friends,’ ” Kim says. But not long after Bianca was released, she left home to be with Rob again.
Unable to keep her daughter from running away, Kim placed Bianca on a Persons in Need of Supervision hold, with a judge ordering her to wear an ankle monitor and be placed on house arrest. In a video Kim showed me, of Bianca singing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and playing the ukulele to Rimmer’s toddler daughter, you can see the ankle monitor peeking out from under her jeans. In June 2018, she violated the PINS order by cutting off her ankle monitor and running away again.
By October 2018, Bianca was moved to St. Anne Institute, a residential-placement facility in Albany. All told, she spent most of 2018 away from her family. Kim says that St. Anne was “the best thing that ever happened” to Bianca. She found a counselor she liked, and she’d started a type of cognitive behavioral therapy aimed at reducing suicidal ideation and self-destructive behaviors. And Bianca seemed to feel the same way. In one Mother’s Day Instagram post, Bianca Photoshopped herself into family photos, thanking Rimmer and Kim for being there for her while she was away. “I’ve learned so much, and i appreciate you more now, than i ever have,” she wrote. “[I] hope i can make you both proud of me. I’m doing my best for both of you, because I love you two.”
In February 2019, Bianca came home, returning to Proctor and ultimately graduating from high school. By all accounts, including her own, Bianca’s mental health had exponentially improved. “I really have been happier and just doing generally better,” she said in May 2019 on the Q&A app Tellonym. “I’m almost 18 and I look at myself 2 years ago and i’m like, Damn.” She was looking forward to college, and she eventually wanted to transfer to a school in New York City. “She was on the up,” says Chloe. “She was getting better, and her life was turning around.”
Bianca had also reconnected with many of her friends, including her ex-boyfriend Ward. Kim says they were inseparable, and Ward says he spoke to her almost every day. He had dated a few people since he and Bianca had split, he says, but “they weren’t anything special compared to her.” Right before she died, he was planning to tell her about his feelings, but instead, the last thing they ever talked about was Area 51 memes.
About a year before her daughter’s death, while Bianca was in the throes of her depression, Kim gave Bianca a card, which Kim found in her room after she died. On the card, Kim wrote, “If you can’t hang on for you, hang on for me. If that’s the only thing keeping you alive, let me be your reason to live, because I can’t live without you.” Bianca had promised to keep hanging on, to keep fighting. And it was starting to seem like she’d make it, like everything would be OK. “I fought for her for so many years, for so long,” Kim says. “And we finally were coming out the other end.”
“And then,” she says, “he took her from us.”
In the spring of 2019, Bianca met Brandon Clark on social media. A 21-year-old from the Syracuse area, a little less than an hour away from Utica, Clark was fond of fitness, gaming, and the anime series Madoka Magica. But he also had a violent and traumatic past: When he was 12, his father held his mother hostage at knifepoint for 10 hours because he believed she was cheating on him. The incident led to his father serving time in prison. According to Clark’s mother, after she was later arrested on unrelated charges, he was placed in foster care.
As a child, Clark was nerdy, polite, and solicitous to a fault, says Joe (not his real name), Clark’s childhood best friend. He was also obsessive, according to Joe, who asked to remain anonymous, fixating on Pokémon or whatever caught his eye. Still, he says Clark was a relatively normal kid and that the two were close, until he learned Clark had developed an obsession with lolicon — Japanese manga featuring young girls — and was texting with a 12-year-old girl when he was 16. According to screengrabs shared with Rolling Stone, Joe and his friends confronted Clark about it. “Trust me, you’re all better off not being concerned with the shit I do or think of doing, because you won’t like what you see,” Clark wrote back. Joe says he never spoke to Clark again.
Yet, when Kim met Clark, she found him charming and polite. He even opened up to Kim, telling her how he had spent his childhood pinballing through the foster-care system. So when Bianca told her mother that she was going with Clark to a Nicole Dollanganger concert at Trans-Pecos, a small venue in Queens, Kim saw no reason to say no, provided that Clark would drop Bianca off as soon as they got back to Utica. Bianca was thrilled. This was the first concert she’d been given permission to attend by herself.
By all accounts, Bianca had been extremely clear with Clark about the nature of their relationship. The one thing that struck her as slightly odd, Kim says, is that Clark occasionally referred to himself as Bianca’s boyfriend, which Bianca had told her he definitely was not. “She was 17 and getting ready to go to college,” Kim says. “She didn’t want a relationship.” Chloe, Bianca’s friend, says that she had complained about Clark’s creepy, obsessive messages. But no one saw this as particularly unusual. At the end of the day, Clark was just another orbiter, and it was far from uncommon within the community for orbiters to exhibit this type of persistent, boundary-crossing behavior. Such messages, says Chloe, are “very easy to ignore after you get so many of them.”
July 14th, 2019, was supposed to go like this: In the early-morning hours, Bianca was to arrive home, tiptoe through the living room, climb into bed in the tiny room she shared with her sister, and fall asleep next to the patches of pink clouds and anime-inspired artwork she’d painted on her wall.
Instead, here is how it went: At 6:03 a.m., a message was posted to Bianca’s server on Discord. “Sorry fuckers, you’re gonna have to find somebody else to orbit,” the message read, along with a photo of a dark-haired young woman with winged eyeliner and a black tank top, her throat brutally cut, and her face splattered with blood. At first glance, it would be easy to mistake the image for a low-budget slasher production still, and indeed, many on the server initially assumed that was what it was. “I didn’t have an immediate reaction — I thought it was literally gore,” says Erica, Bianca’s online friend, referring to gruesome images posted online for shock value. According to screengrabs from the chat, someone did a reverse image search and asked where the photo was from. “My fucking car. I fuck Bianca dumbass,” the original poster responded, before telling followers to subscribe to the YouTuber PewDiePie — a meme also cited by the Christchurch mosque shooter.
Over the next few hours, Bianca’s friends scrambled to figure out what was going on. Slowly, a portrait of the evening started to emerge: At the concert, Bianca and Clark had met up with a third person, a guy who went by the handle “Oipu” and was a longtime presence on the boards. He and Bianca had been part of the same online community, but friends believe this marked the first time they had met. In screengrabs of Discord DMs with a friend, she gushes about him that night in schoolgirlish terms: “he smells so nice lol,” she wrote. “He’s perfect…I’m in love.” According to police, Bianca kissed Oipu while Clark went to get rolling papers. Clark had apparently witnessed the kiss, and no one had heard from Bianca since. In Discord screengrabs from that morning, Oipu says that Clark was “nasty and combative” and that Bianca had given him his first kiss.
At 7:21 a.m., an hour after Clark had posted the photo, calls began to pour into the Utica Police Department from all over the country, reporting that a “disturbing picture of a female that was named as Bianca Michelle Devins” had been posted to Discord, as Lt. Bryan Coromato, an amiable, stocky man in his early forties, later recounted. The department also received calls from family members of Clark, who had found a rambling missive akin to a suicide note at his aunt’s home. Clark had also posted alarming images and messages on his Instagram story, including an image of a woman’s bloody arm with the caption “I’m sorry Bianca,” and changing his bio to show the current date as the day he died. Clark’s mother tells Rolling Stone that at some point during the night, he sent her a message on Facebook: “I’m so sorry mom. I love you.”
At about 7:30 a.m., a 911 dispatcher received a call from Clark. He told her where he was located: Poe Street, a dead-end road about a mile from where Bianca had gone to high school. According to Coromato, Clark told the dispatcher he had committed a murder-suicide and that he was an organ donor, before saying, “I have to do the suicide part of the murder-suicide,” and hanging up.
According to police, they arrived a few minutes later to find Clark lying on top of a green tarp, a small fire raging a few feet away, where he had destroyed his laptop and hard drive. He had spray-painted the words “May you never forget me” on the ground, and he was livestreaming to his Instagram followers. Clark then proceeded to cut his throat before taking a selfie, which he added to his Instagram story. “Ashes to ashes,” the caption read. “I don’t think he anticipated it hurting as much as it did,” says investigator Peter Paladino. “He was rocking [back and forth], fighting through the pain.” One of the officers asked where Bianca was. “Where the fuck do you think she is?” Clark shouted, according to Coromato. It was at that point that an officer observed dark hair peeking out from beneath the tarp.
Clark survived his self-inflicted injuries. The next day, when doctors deemed him well enough to undergo questioning, Paladino visited him. Although police could not reveal the details of his statements due to his upcoming trial, Coromato says that “he was very interested in what was on television [about the case], let’s put it that way.”
Paladino speculates that Clark’s alleged crime, combined with the evidence he had posted on Discord and Instagram, sent the only message he wanted to convey: That he was not, in the parlance of his community, just another one of Bianca’s “beta orbiters,” but that he was “someone who was in control, who couldn’t be fucked with,” Paladino says. He’d wanted something from her, and when she couldn’t or wouldn’t give it to him, he had to send her and the rest of the world a message, which Paladino summarized: “You can’t do this to someone like me, because this is what will happen to you.”
Social media only added to the horror. Because the photo of Bianca’s body had been posted on Discord, #ripbianca started trending on Twitter within hours of her death. Bianca’s murder immediately became something of a canvas onto which people could project their own agendas. Rumors spread that Bianca was asexual (possible), that she had a mental illness (true), and that she was addicted to hard drugs (false, according to her family and friends). Some used her killing as an opportunity to decry toxic masculinity and the misogyny of 4chan culture. Others reported that she’d been “decapitated” by an “incel omega orbiter.” But Bianca was not decapitated, and Clark was not an incel in the conventional sense — Coromato says that information from both Bianca’s and Clark’s phones indicated they “undoubtedly had an intimate relationship.”
As misinformation about Bianca’s murder spread, so too did the photo that Clark had posted on Discord, which quickly made its way to Instagram. For days, it was impossible to search for Bianca’s name or look at the hashtag #ripbianca without seeing it. At first, Instagram claimed that it was doing everything in its power to scrub the photos from the platform, telling Rolling Stone that it had “taken steps to prevent others from reuploading the content.” But Kim says the response was “inadequate. They’re overstating what they did and how fast they had it taken down.” In a statement, Instagram wrote, “All of us at Instagram were shocked and saddened by Bianca’s tragic death. . . . We’re continuing our work to prevent this from happening again, and are collaborating with a number of academic and research institutions to better detect harmful images and videos.”
For weeks, people on the internet seemed to take sadistic pleasure in forcing members of Bianca’s family to see the photo. Someone posted it as a comment underneath Kim’s profile photo on Facebook. Another person AirDropped it to Rimmer while she was shopping for groceries. Someone from 4chan even sent it to Kim as a “cum tribute,” a term for when someone ejaculates on a photo of a woman. He later gleefully posted his handiwork on an /r9k/ thread.
Ward, Bianca’s former boyfriend, still has nightmares about the photo. Sometimes he starts daydreaming and catches it being the last thing that pops into his head. He dated one girl after Bianca’s death, a relationship that quickly ended. “I’d lay down and cuddle, and I’d be like, ‘This don’t feel right.’ Because I know who I wanted to be next to me,” he says.
In the media, many were quick to attribute Bianca’s death to the perils of meeting strangers on the internet, a narrative Kim loathed. “Yes, Bianca and Brandon met on the internet, but it’s 2019,” she said. “That’s just how people meet.” But Bianca’s online friends think there’s more than a grain of truth to the idea that the internet killed Bianca, or at least, that the toxicity of her specific internet community helped contribute to her death. “I’d thought I was the worst thing to ever happen to her,” says Rob, her ex from Long Island. “[But] after everything that happened with me, you’d think she’d learned her lesson on not to fucking trust people online.”
For many girls in the community, particularly those who had seen the photo when it was originally posted, Bianca’s murder was a terrifying wake-up call. They viewed Clark’s obsessive behavior as an extension of the general toxicity of orbiters taken to its logical conclusion. “We all have met orbiters, we’ve all met guys that we met online, and we’ve all met creeps, absolute creeps, even guys who have threatened to kill us,” says Erica. “I was thinking, ‘This could have been me, this could have been any of us, but it was Bianca.’”
In February, Brandon Clark is set to face trial on second-degree murder charges. (He has pleaded not guilty.) His public defender, Luke Nebush, who declined to comment on the trial to Rolling Stone, could stage a defense of extreme emotional disturbance, Coromato speculates, predicated on the theory that Clark was driven mad by seeing Bianca kiss someone else. But according to authorities, there is ample evidence that Bianca’s murder was premeditated. Police recovered knives, rope, and multiple other tools at the scene of her murder. “He had a plan,” says Paladino. “And the only thing he wasn’t able to accomplish was successfully taking his life.”
Kim Devins and her family have showed up to every one of Clark’s hearings, and have requested the maximum sentence for him — 25 years to life. They wear bright-pink T-shirts with a silhouette of a young girl on a swing, a reference to Bianca’s favorite color and childhood activity. Kim hopes to catch his eye in court and force him to acknowledge the lives he ruined. “It is unfair that he got to live,” she says.
In the months leading up to Clark’s trial, Kim has spent much of her time trying to make sense of the one life event that doesn’t make sense at all. She has started a scholarship in Bianca’s name, which will provide funding for students studying psychology, and she’s planning to host a benefit gala this February, featuring Bianca’s artwork. The goal, she says, is to honor Bianca’s dream of helping adolescents who struggle with mental illness.
Years before Bianca Devins’ murder, she and her little sister, Liv, and her best friend, Gianna Murray, would make YouTube videos and post them online. At the time, Gianna says, Bianca hated being in front of the camera; for the most part, she was the one who filmed the other two. But Bianca does appear in one video, when she’s about 11 years old. In it, she’s on a playground, running up and down a hill, her legs scissor-kicking behind her. She heads straight toward an icy embankment and tumbles forward, shrieking with glee, her smile light-years long.
Watching that video, it’s easy to imagine that girl all grown up, back home from college for the holidays, safe and warm in a crowded house, dyeing her hair in the sink, ignoring texts from unworthy boys, and playing Elvis Presley songs on the ukulele for her sister. It’s easy to imagine that girl hurtling toward a happier future, and hard to imagine why anyone would have wanted to stop her.