The family of Cameron Robbins remembers the Baton Rouge, Louisiana high school graduate as an intense, driven, funny, and kind-hearted son. But on the internet, the loss of the 18-year-old — after he jumped off of a cruise ship on an apparent dare — has gone from tragic accident to ripe content mine, the latest example of a tragedy going through the true-crime machine on TikTok.
On May 24, Robbins was part of a group of Louisiana teens who went on the Blackbeard’s Revenge Cruise ship, a Bahamas party boat, to celebrate their recent graduation from high school. According to local Baton Rouge station WAFB, witnesses told police that the alcohol was flowing and the music was loud when Robbins apparently jumped off of the boat on a dare. “This kid f–king jumped off!” someone shouts, in a now-viral video claiming to show Robbins last moments. In the video, the boy can be seen struggling to keep swimming alongside the boat before he moves away from a floating rescue buoy and offscreen. “Oh, bye, bye!” the voice continues. “Grab the buoy!” yells another, as the camera captures a now dark, and seemingly empty, expanse of water. “Yo, this kid’s fucking gone.”
It’s been 12 days since Robbins was last seen. Units from the U.S. Coast Guard, The United Cajun Navy (a volunteer emergency rescue service), and the Royal Bahamas Defense Force all searched for Robbins but were unsuccessful. On May 27, after searching over 325 square miles of water, the Royal Bahamas Defense Force called off the search and listed Robbins as lost at sea, which declared him legally deceased. “We want to thank the Bahamas government, the U.S. Coast Guard, the United Cajun Navy, and Congressman Garrett Graves for everything they have done for us,” the Robbins family said in a statement to WAFB. “In this time of grief, we thank our family, friends and well wishers for granting us the privacy we need to properly remember our son and mourn his loss.”
A teenager with his life cut short is a distressing story on its own. But what has happened since the video has turned Robbins’ last moments from a distressing mishap to a perfect example of how social media turns tragedies into entertainment — all in the search for something deeper. Since May 25, TikToks using the hashtag #CameronRobbins have been viewed over 132 million times. And it’s not just from the single viral video of his last moments. Instead, the bulk of the videos are speculative. Some suggest that rather than drowning, Robbins was attacked by sharks, offering evidence in the form of slowed-down and poorly enhanced clips. The fact that they’re blurry, and do not definitively show even the outline of a shark, hasn’t kept the videos from going viral. Several accounts have also claimed to use audio isolation to prove an unintelligible shout in the video is warning the teen about a fin in the water. Robbins is featured on crime accounts and news TikToks, and there’s even a growing trend that puts sad songs behind videos imagining Robbins’ last moments.
Speculation grew so large that in an interview with Fox News, a spokesperson for the United Cajun Navy addressed the rumors, saying that Robbins’ family had asked rescuers to shut the theory down.
“None of the experts consulted can definitely say what’s in the video due to the quality and length of the video,” Cajun Navy spokesperson Brian Trascher said. “The Robbins family has requested that we not entertain that theory any longer, so our official position is that we don’t know what happened while Cam was in the water.”
According to witnesses, public statements, and the Robbins family, Robbins’ death was an unfortunate, heartbreaking accident. But while this doesn’t exactly count under our current understanding of true crime, Robbins’ death has nonetheless been sensationalised in the exact same way. Karen Douglas, professor of social psychology at the University of Kent and an expert in the psychology behind conspiracy theories, tells Rolling Stone that people become attracted to conspiracy theories when they need clarity on a situation, or feel a need to have control over things that feel uncontrollable.
“People are looking for ways to understand why this terrible thing happened,” Douglas says. “A simple explanation is often not very appealing for such a significant event. People assume that a big event must also have a big or more sinister cause, which is why conspiracy theories can be appealing under these circumstances.”
Douglas adds that while conspiracy theories can be meant as a salve, they do have real-world consequences. And while Robbins is no longer here, he is survived by a grieving community — all of whom will have access to the things people are saying about their loved one. “He will be missed desperately by his family and friends,” his obituary read, “who will carry their cherished memories of him to eternity.” For Robbins’ sake, and the sake of his family, the internet should let him rest.
From Rolling Stone US