Dutch police on Monday said they had received dozens of leads after using deepfake technology to bring to life a teenager to appeal for witnesses almost two decades after his murder.
Sedar Soares was shot dead in 2003 while throwing snowballs with friends in the parking lot of a Rotterdam metro station.
The 13-year-old’s murder baffled police for years, who now, with the permission of Soares’ family, made a video in which the teen asks the public to help solve his cold-case crime.
In what Dutch police believed could be a world-first, an eerily life-like image of Soares appears in the minute-long video as he greets the camera and picks up a soccer ball.
Accompanied by stirring music, he then walks through a guard of honor on the field, comprising his relatives, former teachers and friends.
“Somebody must know who murdered my darling brother. That’s why he has been brought back to life for this film,” a voice says, before Soares stops and drops his ball.
“Do you know more? Then speak,” Soares and his relatives and friends say before his image disappears from the field and the video gives the police contact details.
“The fact that we have already received dozens of tips is very positive,” Rotterdam police spokeswoman Lillian van Duijvenbode said, a day after the deepfake video was released.
“But we haven’t yet checked if these leads are useable,” she told AFP.
Police at first believed Soares was shot because he threw snowballs at a vehicle, the NOS newscaster said.
But police now say “he was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” and was the innocent victim of a so-called “rip-deal” gone wrong, the term used when criminal gang members rob one another.
Police believed Soares was “a victim of underworld violence by pure bad luck”, and are now looking for testimonies from individuals who knew about the rip deal scam in addition to witnesses to the shooting.
Police hope witnesses come forward 19 years after the murder, said Daan Annegarn of the National Investigation Communication Team at the police.
“We know better and better how cold cases can be solved,” he said in a news release. “Science shows that it works to hit witnesses and the perpetrator in the heart. With a personal call to share information. What better way to do that than to let Sedar and his family do the talking?”
Police approached Soares’ family to see if they could try the unconventional investigative tool, and they supported the idea.
“It takes something big to track down the culprit,” Soares sister Janet said. “This is something big.”
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