They seemed like the perfect family — at least online.
Friends and strangers alike were shocked after Chris Watts was charged with murdering his pregnant wife, Shanann, 34, and their two daughters, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste.
The family’s digital footprint painted a pretty picture. On Facebook, Shanann referred to Chris as “my ROCK!” and “the best dad us girls could ask for.” On Valentine's Day, she posted on Instagram: “I love this man more than words can say! He’s my Rock, my love, my biggest fan, supporter and my husband! I couldn’t of hand picked a better man to call my husband and father to our girls!”
Then there are the many videos that Shanann posted to her Facebook page. They showed Watts being a loving father to his children, teaching his daughters how to read. He expresses excitement when he learns that Shanann is pregnant for a third time. In one clip, his daughter Bella sings about her “hero dad.”
“On social media, people often paint overly positive pictures of their lives,” Erin A. Vogel, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California San Francisco’s Department of Psychiatry, told Oxygen.com. “They don't necessarily lie about what's going on, but they usually don't tell the full story either.”
That appears to be the case with the Watts family. Beneath the surface, there was trouble brewing. According to an affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com, Watts said he was having an affair with a coworker, which he claims he disclosed to his wife not long before her death.
“When someone's life appears perfect on social media, it's hard to tell whether things are actually going well, or whether the frequent, positive social media posts might be an attempt to cope with some major problems.”
Kris Landon, a friend of the Watts family for the past four years, told People that she was shocked by Watts’ arrest because of how the couple presented itself.
“His entire persona was as a family man, talking about his wife and his girls,” she said. “I believed until the other day that his entire life was those girls, and that he would die for them.”
That’s definitely the image prevalent on the family’s social media. Vogel said that people should remember that someone’s online presence is merely a polished version of their life.
“Even when we're aware that other people generally only share the highlights of their lives on social media, it's hard to remember that when we're scrolling through our social media accounts,” she said. “Therefore, we often believe that people's lives are nearly perfect, when in reality they are far from perfect.”
She did make the distinction that different people use social media for different reasons.
“For some, posting on social media all the time may be a way to convince themselves and others that things are going well, when in reality, they're struggling,” she said. “Getting ‘likes’ and comments from other people on social media can bring temporary happiness, and posting frequently can be a way to assure others that everything is fine.”
However, she said that other frequent social media users just genuinely enjoy sharing their life with their family, friends and followers.
At 4 a.m. last Monday, about two hours after Shanann arrived home from a business trip, Watts said he told her he wanted to “go through with a separation,” according to the affidavit. After the discussion, which Watts characterized as “emotional,” he claimed he walked downstairs for a moment and then returned to the couple’s bedroom to talk further.
“While in the bedroom, via baby monitor located on Shanann's right stand, he observed Bella 'sprawled' out on her bed and blue and Shanann actively strangling Celeste,” the affidavit states. “Chris said he went into a rage and ultimately strangled Shanann to death.”
The prosecution, however, believes that Chris Watts killed all his family members before taking them to a property owned by Anadarko Petroleum, where Watts worked as an operator. His pregnant wife was found there, buried in a shallow grave. The bodies of his two children were discovered nearby, submerged in crude oil.