En juillet 2019, members of an online gaming community received messages from a member claiming he had killed several of his relatives. A new documentary chronicles their efforts to locate and report him. Clémence Michallon reports
Om 27 juillet 2019, Menhaz Zaman murdered four of his relatives. According to a statement of facts later used in court, Zaman, a resident of Canada, killed his mother, his grandmother, his sister, and his father in a nine-hour span. Puis, according to multiple reports and now a documentary, he confessed to the murders online, telling friends on a gaming server he had just “slaughtered [le sien] entire family”.
The messages were posted on Discord, a service through which users can communicate on dedicated servers. This particular server, Global News signalé dans 2019, was called Perfect World Void and dedicated to the online multiplayer game Perfect World.
At the time of Zaman’s confession, other users on the server only knew him by the name on his account, Menhaz. They didn’t know his full name, or any details of his identity, much less his address. En d'autres termes: the person behind the account confessed to multiple murders – and, selon un 2019 investigation by Vice, sent gruesome photos purportedly of the crime scene – to a group of people who couldn’t feasibly report him to authorities.
When the Menhaz account posted about the murders, other users of the Discord server sprung into action. They set off on a search for any identifying information that would enable them to alert authorities to the situation. A new Peacock documentary, Perfect World: A Deadly Game, chronicles their efforts through firsthand accounts from the community of online gamers who tracked down Menhaz.
According to the people who interacted with the Menhaz account online, the account had a history of sharing offensive comments prior to the murders, including openly racist messages targeting Muslim people. “Everything that Menhaz said was did was obscenely f***** racist,” Nicole, one of the participants in Perfect World: A Deadly Game, says in the first episode. The account had been banned previously, but had returned to the platform. Au 27 juillet 2019, the messages took a worrying turn when the account told a group chat: “Gonna kill my parents and go to jail yo.” The account then shared a photo of a dead woman’s body, with the message: “This is my mom.”
Users of the Discord server weren’t sure what to think. Was the account telling the truth, or was this a cruel prank? The account then sent another, similar image, “allegedly of his grandmother”, Nicole recounts in the documentary.
Un utilisateur, John, was almost certain that the messages were telling the truth. He sent the photos to a group of other contacts in an attempt to see whether they could be matched with any pre-existing images available online – which would have been a sign Menhaz’s messages were fabricated. Among John’s contacts was Nicole, a criminal justice student with some knowledge of forensics. She had little doubt the injuries on the photos were real, not staged. “But it’s possible that these images could have been from the internet, from a shock site,» dit-elle dans le documentaire.
Nicole tried a reverse Google Image search that returned no results. She checked a couple more databases, to no avail. “There were no results which implied that he had just pulled them from some random website," elle dit. “They were probably taken by him. That’s when it was like, ‘This is the real deal. Our friend is a mass murderer.’”
People whose online lives intersected with that of the person they knew only as Menhaz hailed from various parts of the world; the documentary includes participants based in the US, Egypte, Roumanie, Belgique, Israël, and Costa Rica. They didn’t know where the person behind the Menhaz account lived, or what his full name was. One of them tried to contact the police in Texas, where he himself was based, but says he wasn’t taken seriously. Members of the Discord were disturbed and scared. They worried there would be more victims; they felt a pressing need to intervene.
They consulted another user called Junior, from Costa Rica, whom they thought might know Menhaz better than they did. Junior tried to reach Menhaz, messaging him until the account finally replied, according to the documentary: “This may upset you, but I did it.” The person behind the account then threatened to kill his father and his sister next.
The group were no closer to identifying or locating Menhaz. They looked at the history of Menhaz’s messages and determined he was likely located in the Eastern Time zone. A check of his IP address returned a location in Toronto, but IP addresses only give a general idea of where someone might be. “That narrows it down from 7.3 billion people to six million people,” Nicole says in the documentary. “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”
Puis, Menhaz logged back into the game. This gave Austin, one of the administrators, a chance to trace a more precise IP address – and therefore a more precise location. That time, he was able to narrow it down to a specific building on a specific street in Toronto. The group located a phone number for the landlord, hoping they might be able to identify Menhaz’s apartment number.
But when the phone rang, they realized the phone number – and the address that went with it – were those of Menhaz’s internet provider. What had looked like a promising lead turned out to be a dead end, and they were no closer to locating Menhaz personally.
Menhaz sent more disturbing messages to the Discord server as well as another photo, telling the group he had killed his sister. The person behind the account threatened to do the same to his father when he came home in an hour.
The group kept trying.
According to Peacock’s documentary, they contacted a member of the Discord server based in Saint Paul, Minnesota, who called the local police. Someone directed him to the Toronto Police Department, after which Toronto Police filed an emergency request with Discord for any identifying information for Menhaz. This enabled them to get hold of Menhaz’s IP address, which directed them towards the internet service provider Rogers. Detectives contacted Rogers, which finally delivered the physical address registered with Menhaz’s account.
The account in Perfect World: A Deadly Game differs from one given to Vice by Discord users in 2019. In that account, the person behind the Menhaz account asked for money via PayPal, which enabled the community to look up previous payments made from the same PayPal account as well as a home address. This echoes a Toronto Life article which, aimer Vice’s report, says it was a gamer named Bianca who found Menhaz’s home address through his PayPal account and gave it to the police over the phone.
What is not in dispute is that police officers were called to an address on Castlemore Avenue in Markham, a city in Ontario (à propos de 18 miles from Toronto) au 28 juillet 2019. À l'intérieur, tel que rapporté par Global News à l'époque, they found the bodies of Firoza Begum (Zaman’s grandmother), Moniruz Zaman (his father), Malesa Zaman (his sister), and Momotaz Begum (sa mère).
According to all three accounts – the Peacock documentary, Vice, et Toronto Life, Menhaz messages the Discord server stating: “Police are here. Goodbye.”
Moniruz Zaman and Momotaz Begum, Menhaz Zaman’s parents, emigrated to Canada from Bangladesh in the late 1980s, Toronto Life reported in February 2020. Menhaz, né en 1996, was their eldest, followed by his sister Malesa Zaman in 1998. A former high school friend of Menhaz’s described him to the publication as having been “just an average Markham kid”; a neighbor said he had seemed like “the family’s golden child”.
Prior to the murders, Menhaz’s family believed he was studying engineering at York University in Toronto, CTV News reported. Au lieu, he had dropped out after two semesters in an electronics engineering program at Seneca College. Selon Toronto Life, on the night of the murders, Menhaz suggested he had acted as the date of his supposed graduation was approaching, writing on Discord: “It’s been my plan for 3 années. Literally told my parents my uni graduation was July 28th. I couldn’t have delayed it any longer.” He reportedly added: “I did this because I don’t want my parents to feel the shame of having a son like me” and “I’m a pathetic coward and a subhuman. Since I’m an atheist, I believe there’s no afterlife. So I was scared to die. And I wanted them to die so that they didn’t suffer knowing how much of a pathetic subhuman I was. It’s all very selfish. I’m just pathetic.”
Interrogation tapes in Perfect World: A Deadly Game show Menhaz confessing to the murders, telling a detective: “Four of my family members are dead because of me” and “I just killed them” but declining to discuss a motive. According to members of the Discord server, Menhaz said he had spent his days at a mall and going to a community gym when his family believed he was attending classes.
Zaman pleaded guilty in September 2020 to three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder. He was sentenced in November of that year to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 40 années. During a sentencing hearing in October 2020, he told the court: “I would like to just apologize to anyone I have impacted negatively with my actions. Especially to the people who knew my family – friends and loved ones who I know could have never seen something like this from me happening. I am sorry.”
Afnan Alibaccas, Malesa Zaman’s best friend, told the court according to CTV News: “I never thought I would have to write a victim impact statement for my best friend’s murder. I never thought she would be taken away from me like this. I thought the only time I would write a speech for her would be on her wedding day at some point in the future, but I guess that’s off the table now.”
Elle a ajouté: “I fear seeing Menhaz. I fear what he may do as a free man. I have panicked several times in public since he committed the murder in fear of seeing him or when I see anyone who looks like him. I fear this pain and anxiety will never leave me.”