When Seth Rich was found dead in the early hours close to his home in Washington, it was initially believed he had been the victim of an attempted robbery.
But very quickly the internet erupted with theories and speculation that the July death of the 27-year-old, who worked for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), was connected to the release of more than 20,000 hacked emails. Some were even suggesting that people in high places had ordered him “wiped out”, for some unspecified role in the leak of the emails, which were published by Wikileaks.
This week, such theories received fresh fuel when Wikileaks announced it was offering a reward of $20,000 for information that led to the conviction of Mr Rich’s killer. Why, people asked, was Wikileaks getting involved in the affair unless Mr Rich, who lived in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of north-west Washington, was somehow involved.
Wikileaks said it would not comment on how it obtained the emails. Then, in an extraordinary interview with Dutch television, Mr Assange seemed to imly that the young man was indeed the source.
“Whistleblowers go to significant efforts to get us material and often very significant risks. As a 27 year-old, works for the DNC, was shot in the back, murdered just a few weeks ago for unknown reasons as he was walking down the street in Washington,” he said in the interview on Sunday night.
The interviewer from Nieuwsuur asked Mr Assange if that was not simply a murder. Mr Assange replied: “No. There’s no finding. So, I’m suggesting that our sources take risks.”
The Wikileaks head said people were taking such risks because the stakes going into the US were "so high".
Mr Rich’s father told the Washington Post that he was concerned about the “bizarre” reports that were circulating on internet discussion and message boards about his son. Mr Rich and his wife, Mary Ann, who live in Nebraska, visited the Washington location of the shooting last week and appealed for help in finding the killer.
On Tuesday, Joel Rich said the WikiLeaks reward would further fuel the rumour mill. “I hope the additional money helps find out who did this,” he said. “But I don’t want to play WikiLeaks game.”
Mr Rich was shot twice in the back as he walked to his home at around 4:20am on July 10. Nothing was taken, but police have said attempted robbery was their leading theory for a motive, noting a spike in robberies in the neighbourhood in the preceding weeks. WikiLeaks released the cache of DNC emails later that month, on July 22.
One of the emails revealed a plot by DNC staffers to try and smear Bernie Sanders and support his rival, Hillary Clinton. The revelation sparked outrage among supporters of Mr Sanders and the chair of the DNC, Congressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was forced to resign.
She would be among those who attended a vigil for Mr Rich in his home town. Meanwhile, Ms Clinton mentioned his name during a speech in which she called for limiting the availability of guns.
Police in Washington have already offered a reward of $25,000 for information about Mr Rich’s death, something that is standard in all murder cases. In a statement, the force said its investigation was ongoing, but said there was no evidence yet that the murder was linked to his DNC job.
“At this time, there is no indication that Seth Rich’s death is connected to his employment at the DNC,” said the statement.
“However, we welcome information that could potentially lead to the identification of the individual responsible for his death and are pleased when any outside contributors help us generate new leads.”
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