It took a little under six minutes of screen time to launch Kai into the upper stratosphere of Internet fame.
It was February 2013. A local news station in Fresno, Calif., was on the hunt for a young hitchhiker who had reportedly saved pedestrians from an attacker. When a reporter and camera person found the young man, he only said his name was “Kai."
“Do you have a last name?” the interviewer asked.
“Nah, bro,” the hitchhiker said. “I don’t have anything.”
Wild long hair snagged in a bandanna and mouth leaking enough four-letter words to bury a broadcaster in FCC fines, he narrated how he took out the rampaging attacker after the man assaulted two women.
“He runs up and he grabs one of them, man. Like a guy that big can snap a woman’s neck like a pencil stick! So I [expletive] ran up behind him with a hatchet,” the hitchhiker told the interviewer. “Smash! Smash! Smash!” he added pantomiming the attack. “It was [expletive] gnarly man. It was like the biggest wave I’ve ever ridden.”
An Internet sensation was born.
The original video of “Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker” has since racked up more than 7 million views on YouTube. Countless remixes of his interview were made. Fan pages sprouted up. The clip warranted an entry on Know Your Meme. Kai made an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
But the viral story ended unlike most — with a murder charge, and a trial set to start on Tuesday.
According to News 12 New Jersey, Kai — real name Caleb McGillvary — is accused of killing Joseph Galfy, a 73-year-old land-use attorney, in May 2013, three months after he made his viral splash. The now-30-year-old has pleaded not guilty to the charge, and faces life in prison if convicted.
McGillvary’s fame snowballed after his clip hit the Internet, and he remained off the grid.
“I’ve met a lot of cool people who have been reaching out through the Internet, mostly contacting me through Facebook, there is about 10,000 messages in my inbox from people all across the country,” he told Vice in May 2013. “I play drums and guitar. I head down to the beach and surf. I skateboard off hills into the countryside, and I walk around in the forest and identify new plants.”
He also continued to wander across the country. Those ramblings eventually took him to the East Coast. As the Courier News reported, McGillvary — who is originally from Edmonton, Alberta, according to the Associated Press — met Galfy in New York’s Times Square on May 12, 2013. The two men allegedly drank beers together, and Galfy offered to let McGillvary, then 24, sleep in the guest bedroom at his house in Clark, N.J.
In a since-deleted Facebook post, McGillvary later would claim that he had woke up in Galfy’s house the next morning after being drugged and sexually assaulted the night before, the Courier News reported. Galfy was partially naked in the bed, and McGillvary would later claim in the post he fought off the older man in self-defense.
"What would you do if you woke up with a groggy head, metallic taste in your mouth, in a strangers house . . . and started wretching [sic], realizing that someone had drugged, raped . . . you?” the posting said, according to the New York Post.
Police would later find Galfy dead in his home on May 13, 2013, NJ.com reported. He had been beaten to death. Messages found on the victim’s phone pointed to the viral star as a suspect. Authorities would later determine McGillvary left the house, walked to a nearby train station and traveled to meet a fan.
On May 17, 2013, a barista at a Starbucks in Philadelphia recognized McGillvary and had seen news reports that police were looking for him. He called 911, and police found and arrested McGillvary at a nearby bus station, the New York Post reported.
According to the Courier News, McGillvary was unaware Galfy was dead.
While in jail on his murder charge, McGillvary initially tried to keep his viral fame going, releasing recordings from custody and attempting to leverage his fan base for his legal fees, NJ.com reported. Six years after his Internet debut, however, it remains to be seen how much of that fan base still exists or remembers his plight.
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