Man accused of cyberbullying missing boy's parents says online group got out of control

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Tom Hurley is one of the administrators of a Facebook group where people shared information and theories about the case of Dylan Ehler. (Preston Mulligan/CBC - image credit)
Tom Hurley is one of the administrators of a Facebook group where people shared information and theories about the case of Dylan Ehler. (Preston Mulligan/CBC - image credit)

A man accused of cyberbullying the parents of a missing Nova Scotia boy on social media said Tuesday a Facebook group devoted to the child's case started with good intentions but spiralled out of control.

Tom Hurley is one of the administrators of a Facebook group where people shared information and theories about the case of Dylan Ehler, a three-year-old boy who went missing in Truro, N.S., last year and has not been found.

The Facebook group was one of several that became a source of anguish for Dylan's parents, Ashley Brown and Jason Ehler, after participants began accusing them of negligence and even murder.

But Hurley said the group was originally meant to assist in the search for the boy.

Three-year-old Dylan was last seen near Queen and Elizabeth streets in Truro, N.S., last May. Search and rescue teams have focused their efforts in and around Lepper Brook and the Salmon River, where they found a pair of the boy's boots.
Three-year-old Dylan was last seen near Queen and Elizabeth streets in Truro, N.S., last May. Search and rescue teams have focused their efforts in and around Lepper Brook and the Salmon River, where they found a pair of the boy's boots.(Town of Truro/Facebook)

"Our intentions were to try to help them find Dylan," Hurley said. "And it was going good from the beginning. And then something turned somewhere, somewhere along the line, it got turned around."

Dylan was playing at his grandmother's house when he disappeared on May 6, 2020. His boots were located nearby shortly afterward, but no other trace of the toddler has ever been found.

Police have said they do not believe there was any foul play in the child's disappearance.

There were about 13 Facebook groups devoted to the case, Hurley said, but his is the only one that has ended up in court. Hurley said he deleted some posts, but they continued to circulate because users took screenshots of them.

The boy's parents are using the Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act to attempt to have Hurley's group permanently deleted. They are also seeking punitive damages.

Lawyer Allison Harris, who is representing the boy's parents, said no monetary value has yet been set for those damages.

Group's admin calls for apology 'on both sides'

During an interview with reporters Tuesday, Hurley at one point said he didn't see any posts in the group that constituted cyberbullying or harassment, but at another point said "everybody was doing it."

"We're not the only ones doing it. The only reason we're here today is because we didn't hide behind fake accounts like everybody else is doing," he said.

Hurley also said Jason Ehler cyberbullied and issued threats in a Facebook group.

"I think a sorry should be good on both sides," Hurley said.

Father of missing boy says damage is done

Ehler acknowledged he did make a threat once, but apologized right after.

"You guys can't even imagine what they've said about us, you know? So try to sit there and not say anything, sometimes you slip and you say things," he said.

Dylan's parents said the accusations in the group have caused them fear and anxiety, but they also worry the posts have distracted people from "the most important thing" — the search for their son.

Ehler said an apology from Hurley would be nice, but "the damage is already done."

The active search for Dylan was called off on May 12, 2020, 6 days after his disappearance.
The active search for Dylan was called off on May 12, 2020, 6 days after his disappearance.(Submitted by Ashley Brown)

"How do you take that back?" said Ehler. "How do you take Ashley waking up every morning crying, you know, how do they take back us being nervous to go to the store because everybody looks at us like we could be murderers or we can be this or we could be that?

"How do you take back the impact they put on my son's searches? How do they take back any of that? They can't take back any of that. What's done is done."

The cyberbullying case will be back in court on April 6.

Ehler and Brown said the police investigation into their son's disappearance is ongoing, and they will be meeting with police soon to talk about renewed searches this spring.

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