It began four years ago with a plea for help and the organization of a search party.
Later came a memorial page, messages of condolences and pictures of the twin brothers together, smiling.
Then, on Thursday, Sept. 15, messages of shock and disbelief started popping up.
"oh.my.god." read one.
"Sick to my stomach," read another.
The online chatter had come full circle.
Within 24 hours of Howard County police posting a news release on the department's Facebook page announcing that 23-year-old Wael Ali had been charged in the 2007 murder of his twin brother, Wasel, in Columbia, there were more than 30 comments on the post from other users of the social networking site — some of which were removed because of profanity.
Shock and disbelief dominated the posted reactions, but there was also some expression of long-standing suspicion, a need for prayer, sympathy for the Ali family and one reminder of the country's "innocent until proven guilty" legal system.
In all, the messages created a compelling online record of community reaction to the surprising cold-case arrest. They also marked a fork in the already-long trail of online reactions to Wasel's disappearance and death.
Almost immediately after the 19-year-old Wilde Lake High School graduate went missing on Aug. 22, 2007, his brother Wael had turned to Facebook for help, issuing a plea on the site for friends to help him search for his twin brother.
Later, after police found Wasel's body on a secluded dirt path behind the 12000-block of Green Meadow Drive in Hickory Ridge and determined that he had been killed, Wael again turned to Facebook, to a memorial page where friends began posting loving tributes to his brother and condolences to him.
Among other things, friends promised the deceased Wasel that they would look out for Wael.
"The Ali family is in my prayers, especially Wael," wrote one poster, another Wilde Lake graduate, on Aug. 29, 2007, two days after Wasel's body was found. "I can't imaging (sic) what he must be going through."
People continued writing messages on the memorial page wall in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Then came Wael Ali's arrest in Georgia, and the announcement of that arrest by Howard County police.
The memorial wall has remained unchanged since, but some of the same people who had posted there in the past began posting on the police department's page.
A sampling of comments from that page:
"idk what to think right now"
"this is crazy"
"I am so lost for words plz (sic) make this go away"
"this is insane."
"wow speachless (sic). beyond sad"
"prayers to the family. wow"
Comments on the case also came via Twitter, another networking site that was in its infancy in 2007.
Wael Ali's arrest in the case, one user wrote, "straight blew the lid off Columbia…"Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun