Student Googles Himself, Finds He's Murder Suspect

Florida student Zachary Garcia mistakenly linked to murder in police mix-up.

December 1, 2010, 11:55 AM

Dec. 1, 2010— -- Vanity Google searches -- or, more specifically, Googling yourself -- can uncover all kind of surprises.

But just imagine Florida student Zachary Garcia's reaction when he Googled his name and discovered he was wanted for murder.

"At first, I was very shocked at the whole situation. Then I became very upset," he said.

Earlier this week, after a late night shift as a DJ at a local club, the 18-year-old University of Florida student searched for himself online and discovered that his name and photograph were connected to a murder that took place in September. He said he awoke his mother with a 3 a.m. phone call to share the shocking news.

"I just wanted to get the whole situation dealt with. It was just very overwhelming having my name out there like that and being falsely charged with a felony murder. It's not something you want to deal with every day," he said.

In an official release, officers with the Polk County Sheriff's Office said Zachary Garcia was charged with murder, though it was actually another man, Zachery Garcia (with an "e") who was the real murder suspect.

Based on that release, the story was reported by several media outlets that also broadcast photos of the wrong Garcia in connection with the alleged murder.

Scott Wilder, a spokesman with the Polk County Sheriff's Office, said the two men not only have very similar names but also share the same birthday, one year apart. Zachary Garcia was born on March 6, 1992, while Zachery Garcia was born on March 6, 1993, Wilder said.

Zachery Garcia was charged with murder after he and three other teens attempted to break into an occupied home in Davenport, Fla. in September. The homeowner shot two of the intruders during the incident, one of whom ultimately died. The other teens, including Garcia, were charged with homicide because they were accessories to the crime, Wilder said.

The Zachery Garcia actually charged with murder was arrested and sentenced to a juvenile facility in October.

Garcia, the innocent student, had found the news reports that were posted shortly after sheriff's department's September release.

"We made a mistake -- a serious mistake. And we've apologized. The sheriff has sent Zachary a formal letter," Wilder said. "It's basically just one of those bizarre and unfortunate coincidences that occurred."

Zachary Garcia: 'Google Your Name,' This Could Happen to You

In a formal letter to Garcia, Sheriff Grady Judd said, "I am truly sorry that we made this error, and vow to do everything in my power to correct the misinformation that has been reported in the media."

Wilder said his office has contacted news outlets that reported the initial misinformation, asking that they correct their stories and remove photographs of the "good" Zach.

He also said that while the news release and subsequent stories named the wrong Garcia, official booking documents never contained the same error.

For his part, Zachary Garcia, who said he hasn't yet chosen a major, hopes this search engine screw-up doesn't affect his future.

"I'm an aspiring student at the University of Florida," said the college freshman. "Future bosses of mine may look at my name online and see the mix-up, but just because of the mix-up they may not hire me."

He said police told him that everyone makes mistakes, but "they had my life in their hands as if a surgeon is operating on me."

"I work at Publix, if I get somebody's sandwich wrong… that's just a sandwich. But this is somebody's life you're playing with. There's no margin for error in this case," he said.

Garcia said he's speaking out about what happened to him because he wants others to know that it could happen to them.

"All I got to say is Google your name. See what comes up," he said. "The Internet is massive… the Internet is not always right."

ABC News' OnCampus reporters Lynne Guey, Olivia Stacey and Clark Fouraker contributed to this report.

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