- Sela Freuler attended a school for troubled girls that made headlines with the death of a student.
- When a true crime podcast used her story in an episode, she spoke out against the genre.
- She told Insider that she wishes true crime creators would be more considerate of survivors’ feelings.
Sela Freuler, a 30-year-old woman from Phoenix, Arizona, was the subject of an unexpected episode of the true crime podcast — and now she’s using her platform to speak out against the genre.
Freuler is a former student at Lakeland College for Women in Florida, a Florida facility for at-risk teens, where a 17-year-old girl named Naomi Wood died in 2020. It closed earlier this year after passing away under its care.
A student at the school from 2007 to 2009, she has been open to criticism of the school, writing online and speaking to several news outlets about how the school operates. She also recounted on TikToks how she was overlooked by the institution when she was a student there. But when the “Popcorn Murders” podcast used her experience as the basis for an episode, she wasn’t happy.
The 30-year-old TikToker told Insider that she thinks the true crime genre should focus more responsibly on platform crimes and tragedies, and respect the victims mentioned in the episodes.
Floyler said it was “very upsetting” to hear her story being retold without her consent
In a TikTok video posted on Nov. 10, Freuler said several true crime podcasts tried to tell her story without contacting her, but she singled out one show she found particularly offensive, called “Popcorn Murder.” Story”—a relatively small show hosted by two women named Emily and Megan (Insider agreed to withhold their last names due to privacy concerns amid ongoing backlash)—has 142 episodes, dating back to 2019. The description for the show on Apple’s podcasts page describes it as a “mostly real” crime podcast.
In a recording of the episode in which Freuler reacts on her TikTok, the host can be heard describing Freuler as a “monster” and making untrue claims about her.
Some of the information in the podcast appears to have been pulled from Freuler’s TikTok videos, many of which discuss the situation with ease, but Freuler told Insider that the host added her own jokes, which made her uncomfortable, as if the host Did not take her story seriously. She also accused them of blaming the victim for her actions.
“It’s one thing for a victim or survivor to talk about their own experiences and use humor. But it’s a completely different thing when other people talk about your insecurities or your experiences with the same level of demeaning humor. It doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Freuler said the podcast host did not contact her for comment or to be interviewed for the episode, which was first released in late 2021 but was deleted shortly after she mentioned the podcast on TikTok about a year later.
“It’s frustrating to hear a complete stranger’s fictional account of your life,” she told Insider.
After Freuler’s video went viral and racked up 260,000 views, “Popcorn Murder Story” received a ton of negative reviews on Apple Podcasts, as people called the show “immoral” and “disrespectful” of its victims. Its entire backend directory has been removed from all platforms.
On Nov. 23, Freuler posted a follow-up video of one of the podcast hosts apologizing to her in a private email, a screenshot of which Insider has seen.
In a statement to Insider, Emily said she and Meghan intended to “amplify” the victim’s voice by discussing Floyler’s video, not to “sham her.”
“We take Sela’s concerns very seriously, so when we heard from her audience that she was unhappy with our coverage of Naomi’s case, we wanted to respect her plea for accountability,” she said, adding, “We tried to State the situation. It deserves careful thought, and when we did, it became clear that this was part of a wider conversation about whether humor is appropriate in the true crime arena – so in the spirit of harm reduction, we decided it would be best to also listen to the podcast at all decline.”
Freuler’s experience with the podcast is representative of a broader problem with the way true-crime content treats trauma as entertainment, she said.
Freuler said she sees the humor used in the “Popcorn Murders” episode as emblematic of true crime content increasingly blending entertainment and reality, pointing to recent trends such as content creators dressing up crimes as they explain crimes, or Discuss them with comedy.
“It creates a kind of desensitization, so it feels more like they’re talking about horror movies that you can enjoy and watch with popcorn, rather than real life,” she said.
While “Popcorn Murder Stories” is a smaller show than many mainstream true-crime podcasts and TV shows, which largely adhere to higher standards of fact-checking, Freuler said she believes her incident with the podcast Suggests that there is a widespread lack of accountability for entire types of victims.
Recently, Netflix’s adaptation of the life and crimes of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer came under fire after relatives of the victims spoke out against it. Rita Isbell, the sister of one of Dahmer’s victims, Errol Lindsey, said the show did not contact her, but portrayed her in 1992 to Dahmer, according to Insider. The scene where the impact statement was made in Murder’s sentencing. Ryan Murphy, the show’s creator, told The Hollywood Reporter that his team contacted “about 20” families of the victims, but no one responded to them.
In this case, Freuler said, she believes true crime creators have a responsibility to weigh the impact of their content and do their best to ensure that the authentic voices of victims and survivors are heard.
“If you’re going to use someone’s real-life experience as a theme, you should really consider what they’re thinking and feeling,” she told Insider.
Freuler said she continues to use TikTok to share her story.
“I think being able to tell your own story in your own words and find a community through social media with people who have been through similar things is effective,” she said.
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s digital culture team here.