More than a year ago, Seth Rich was shot in the back as he made his way home one night in Washington.
While the death of the 27-year-old Democratic National Committee staffer remains unsolved, his family has said they believe it was a botched robbery attempt.
But that didn’t stop conservative pundits from spreading an unfounded conspiracy theory that he was murdered last year because he provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC.
Theories on who killed him and why have made headlines on several occasions. The young DNC staffer died just as he was on the cusp of starting a dream job, one that appeared to be the perfect next step for a political path launched during his teenage years.
Long before he headed to Washington, a US senator had hired him for his campaign while he was still in high school in Omaha, Nebraska, according to The Washington Post.
Before Rich died, he had been offered a new job on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and was getting ready to move to New York, his parents wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.
“Seth had been walking around, calling friends, family and his girlfriend, pondering the broader picture of what the job change would mean,” his parents said. “He wondered how he would pick up and move to New York City for four months, the strain that it might put on his relationships, and how it would all affect the life he had built for himself in Washington.”
As he walked home the night of July 10, someone confronted him on the street. His phone call ended abruptly, his parents wrote in the opinion piece.
“We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist,” the parents said.
“Law enforcement officials told us that Seth’s murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants — after shooting our son — panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth’s personal belongings.”
At the time, his father said his son was killed after resisting a robbery, and the assailant did not succeed in stealing his watch, wallet and credit cards.
Rich’s job at the DNC focused on a project to help voters find their polling places. To provide a dose of comic relief at work, he regularly donned a sweatshirt with a picture of a panda, his favorite animal, the Post reported.
For months, right-wing media outlets have floated unproven theories that Rich provided WikiLeaks thousands of internal DNC emails, and suggested that his death might have been connected with the supposed leak.
No real evidence was ever provided to support such claims and Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, which continues to investigate the murder, says there is evidence to suggest he may have been the victim of a botched robbery.
Nevertheless, a handful of right-wing media outlets had latched on to the theory, and that narrative once again popped up on conservative media in May after a private investigator suggested Rich had some connection to WikiLeaks and its leaks of DNC emails.
For six days, Fox News allowed the story to remain up on its website as network personalities such as Sean Hannity promoted it on their platforms.
Rich’s brother wrote a letter to the executive producer of Hannity’s Fox News show, pleading with him to find “decency and kindness” in his heart and stop spreading the unproven conspiracy theory.
“Think about how you would feel losing a son or brother. And while dealing with this, you had baseless accusations of your lost family member being part of a vast conspiracy,” Aaron Rich wrote in the letter to “Hannity” executive producer Porter Berry, a copy of which was provided to CNN.
Fox News eventually removed the inaccurate story that peddled the conspiracy theory from its site, after a private investigator contradicted aspects of the story.
Rod Wheeler, a former homicide detective who was hired on the Rich family’s behalf by wealthy Republican businessman Ed Butowsky to investigate Rich’s death, has filed a lawsuit against Fox News.
Wheeler claims a pair of quotes attributed to him were fabricated and that the story was part of an attempt to discredit the US intelligence community’s determination that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and obtained a trove of emails released by Wikileaks, the document says.
Jay Wallace, Fox News’ president of news, said that Wheeler’s allegations are erroneous, and that the retraction of the story is still being investigated internally.