EXCLUSIVE: ORLANDO, Fla. – Some people help themselves by helping others – it was a common theme at CrimeCon 2023 over the weekend, where the final panel featured a group of victims’ families who had all begun advocacy campaigns or charity foundations as they coped with their own trauma.
But it’s true for regular people too, including Whitney Sich, a Florida mom whose recovery from an unexpected stroke in 2020 coincided with the growth of an online true crime sleuth community she founded while she could barely walk or talk.
Sich created the True Crime Sisters, a network of Facebook groups dedicated to missing persons and other notable cases, as well as A Voice for the Voiceless, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of cases.
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Whitney Sich stands at her nonprofit’s booth, surrounded by missing persons flyers at CrimeCon 2023 in Orlando, Florida. Sich founded the True Crime Sisters Facebook group and a nonprofit called A Voice for the Voiceless, both of which raise awareness of missing person cases. (Michael Ruiz/Fox News Digital)
“I got into true crime when someone went missing from my community,” she told Fox News Digital over the weekend at CrimeCon 2023 in Orlando.
But just as she was getting into it, the then-38-year-old stay-at-home mom’s health took a turn for the worse.
WATCH: Missing persons nonprofit founder urges people to share flyers
“I had a stroke,” she said, losing her mobility and her voice.
But she still wanted to help her local community, she said. So she started a Facebook group and began making missing person flyers.
“I wanted to be a mom again and hold my boy. I had to learn how to use my arms again and learn how to use my legs and talk again, so I could say, ‘I love you.’”
“I was learning to walk and talk and spreading awareness and building a community, and the Facebook group that we made gained like 15,000 people,” she said. “And then that kind of turned into other missing people, families looking for help, and we’ve been doing that for years now.”
Her groups spread awareness, host vigils and spent countless hours analyzing cases on their own.
Sich pictured hugging her son from a hospital bed shortly after she suffered a stroke that limited her ability to move and speak. During her recovery, she founded the True Crime Sisters Facebook group and A Voice for the Voiceless, a nonprofit that raises awareness for missing person cases. (Courtesy of Whitney Sich)
“It took away all of my abilities, and I had to come back from it,” she told Fox News Digital. “I’m a mom, so I wanted to be a mom again and hold my boy. I had to learn how to use my arms again and learn how to use my legs and talk again, so I could say, ‘I love you.’”
At the same time she’s been recovering physically, her online efforts have led to real consequences for criminal suspects, she said.
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The booth of A Voice for the Voiceless, a nonprofit advocacy group for missing persons and their families, at CrimeCon 2023 in Orlando, Florida. The nonprofit was founded by Whitney Sich, a Florida mom who became a true crime sleuth while recovering from a stroke in the COVID-19 era. (Michael Ruiz/Fox News Digital)
In July 2020, a 21-year-old Georgia mother named Leila Cavett vanished from a trip to South Florida, according to authorities.
Shannon Ryan, a self-proclaimed “witch doctor” who was later arrested in connection with the case, made a Facebook post in which he called Cavett his “apprentice,” Sich said, then allegedly tried to hide it after she went missing.
“He originally included the presumed murder victim in his Facebook post, and then he edited the Facebook post,” she said. “We found the edited Facebook post, and the edit history showed that she was included in his original Facebook post. So she was with him.”
Atlanta mom Leila Cavett went missing in 2020 after visiting South Florida. Shannon Ryan, a self-described “witch doctor,” has been charged with murder and tampering with evidence in connection with her disappearance. (Miramar Police Department)
FLORIDA ‘WITCH DOCTOR’ ARRESTED IN CASE OF MISSING LEILA CAVETT WHOSE SON, 2, WAS FOUND WANDERING ALONE
They shared the information with the FBI, she said, identifying Ryan, 42, as a potential suspect. Fox News Digital has reached out to the FBI for comment.
Police in Florida arrested Ryan in May 2021 after Cavett’s 2-year-old son was found wandering barefoot in a dirty diaper.
Her remains have not been found. She was last seen on surveillance video in the passenger seat of Ryan’s car.
Surveillance video shows Shannon Ryan’s car at a Hollywood, Florida, RaceTrac gas station shortly after Leila Cavett was last seen. (Miramar Police Department)
Ryan is currently being held in Broward County and will soon go to trial on charges that include second-degree murder, child neglect and tampering with evidence, court records show.
Sich’s organizations have also helped families and authorities find missing persons alive and safe, according to Chloe Schafer, a Tennessee-based private investigator who said she met her online more than a year ago. Since then, they’ve collaborated dozens of times, she added.
“I’ve worked a ton of runaway cases where we helped the family either physically locate them or helped lead law enforcement to them,” she said.
True crime sleuths have at times been criticized, but they’ve also been lauded for coming forward with information that led to major developments in a case.
WATCH: Travel blogger identifies Gabby Petito’s van in Wyoming before officials find body matching description
Shortly after a travel blogging couple shared dashcam video that showed Gabby Petito’s van at a Wyoming campground in 2021, an FBI-led search team found the missing woman’s remains nearby.
Jenn Bethune, who along with her husband runs the “Red White and Bethune” travel blog, began reviewing footage from her visit to Grand Teton National Park after someone on social media sent her a post from police asking anyone who may have been in the area in late August 2021 to review their photos and videos.
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The family had been there around that time – and it turned out they’d driven right by Petito’s van, which her suspected killer Brian Laundrie later drove to Florida without her.
Laundrie later shot himself in the head, days after police knocked on his door searching for Petito, according to the FBI, and his remains were found just over a month later in a swampy nature preserve near his parents’ house in North Port, Florida. Nearby in a waterproof bag, police found a handwritten confession.
“Awareness matters, and there’s the multiplier effect,” Sich told Fox News Digital. “So if one person posts a flyer, which is what my organization does, if we post a flyer, and you see it online, please share it. Because if you’re from an area where that person’s missing, someone might find that person because of that flyer.”
Michael Ruiz is a reporter for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to [email protected] and on Twitter: @mikerreports
Florida mom turns online detective post-stroke, helping make real-life arrests
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