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Is online dating to blame for Nikki McPhatter's death? 

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and in a grand case of karma, the trial of suspected killer Theodore Manning IV is currently underway.

You may remember that Manning is the young man accused of murdering US Airways employee Nikki McPhatter in 2009. It is alleged that McPhatter, who met Manning online, drove to South Carolina to end their relationship because of Manning's refusal to make a long-term commitment.

Manning is accused of shooting McPhatter, putting her body in a car, and setting it on fire to cover up the crime. He allegedly enlisted the help of another girlfriend, Kendra Goodman, to burn McPhatter's body and to use the dead woman's ATM card, from which he withdrew $500. To add insult to injury, Goodman and Manning apparently had sex while McPhatter's body was burning. Manning was arrested based on information Goodman provided, who claimed she went along with Manning's wishes out of fear for her life. Prosecutors have refused to offer Manning, who is facing a life sentence, a plea deal.

Some have suggested that McPhatter would never have come into contact with Manning had it not been for online dating. The two led very different lives and it seems that their paths would not have crossed. According to an article by John Monk in The Charlotte Observer, McPhatter lived 90 miles away and worked at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, while Manning lived in rural Richland County and worked at the nearby Westinghouse nuclear fuel processing plant. Blaming online dating instead of the person who did the killing, however, takes the focus off of the real culprit — domestic violence.

According to Online Dating magazine, more than 20 million people visit at least one online dating service each month. It is also estimated that 31 percent of adults in America say they know someone who has used an online dating service. In 2007, approximately 120,000 marriages were the result of online dating.

You've seen see the commercials for Web destinations that claim to be the "No. 1 trusted online dating site." Each has a survey and method for maximizing compatibility in hopes of helping members to make "real" connections. Each also provides safety tips on making sure that one does not become a victim. As in real life, one cannot always determine if someone plans to do you harm — as was the case with McPhatter, who would not have driven 90 miles to break up with someone whom she thought would kill her. Part of me believes that folks want to find a reason for the senseless murder and online dating satisfies that need.

The danger in that line of thinking is that online dating can be scapegoated for real-world issues, which include violence against romantic partners. It is my belief that someone who is a batterer, controlling, possessive, abusive or a murderer will be that way whether you meet him or her online or in person. The victims usually know their assailant whether they meet online or not.

McPhatter's friend Fran Eddings has dedicated a tremendous amount of time and energy to keeping McPhatter's memory alive, the facts surrounding her murder in the press and social media networks — and making sure that Manning is held accountable for his alleged actions. Instead of blaming online dating, blame the killer for this heinous act. Online dating didn't put a bullet in the back of McPhatter's head.

The only role that Internet dating should play in this case is to remind men and women to be safe. The same measures that one employs in guarding his or her safety in dating offline should continue online. Verbally or physically abusive behavior, possessiveness and an obsession with controlling the actions of others are red flags. Trust your instincts. Do not share personal information too soon. When meeting for the first time, make sure it is in a public place. Always let someone know the identity of your date and where you are headed. The murder trial of Theodore Manning IV falling within a month of domestic violence awareness is poetic indeed. McPhatter's senseless murder will hopefully serve as a reminder to everyone, male and female, that domestic violence is as much of a perpetrator as her murderer.

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