The True Story Behind 'TikTok Star Murders' Documentary

The new documentary TikTok Star Murders, out June 25 on Peacock, explores the dark story of an abusive relationship between an internet-famous couple. Ali and Ana Abulaban met in 2014, when they both served in the Air Force and were stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Around 2019, Ali began gaining an online following under the name @jinnkid. On his social media accounts, Ali would post videos of himself doing sketch comedy and impressions of figures like Tony Montana from Scarface, Tekashi 6ix9ine, and characters from the video game Skyrim. Set on becoming an internet star, Ali got a small taste of that kind of fame as his videos regularly racked up millions of views.

Sometimes, Ana would assist Ali and appear in his videos, either from behind the camera while recording him or in front of it, appearing in videos with him. What seemed like a happy marriage was a lie—Ali was consistently jealous and displayed a narcissistic attitude. He would sometimes live-stream his arguments with his wife where he would verbally abuse her. For months in 2021, he posted troubling content about their relationship online and the documentary includes footage of him accusing her of cheating on him and berate her for not having sex with him. He also regularly used cocaine, even snorting it while live-streaming. On Oct. 21, 2021, Ali murdered Ana and her friend, Rayburn Barron, in a fit of rage.

TikTok Star Murders uncovers Ali and Ana’s lives through the eyes of the people who knew them best. Here’s the story behind the Peacock documentary, which airs three days before Ali Abulaban’s sentencing for two convictions of first-degree murder. He faces a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

TikTok Star Murders traces Ali and Ana Abulaban’s relationship 

Following their meeting in Japan, Ali was discharged from the Air Force after allegedly assaulting a friend of Ana’s.

After Ali was discharged, he went back to living in Virginia and Ana returned to the Philippines. When he found out Ana was pregnant with their daughter, Amira, he was able to get her a visa to live with him in the United States, where they began their family as Ali began his career online, making content on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. The more popular he got, the more he began to share snippets of his personal life with his audience, leading his followers to believe he had a perfect relationship with no issues.

Ana, who had friends in San Diego, convinced Ali that it would be good for his career to be in California, and they moved west in 2021. At the same time, Ana began to gain a strong online following of her own—highlighted in the documentary as a point of contention in their relationship. Ali became jealous and possessive, and began abusing Ana physically and emotionally. Throughout the documentary, audiences see footage of their fights that Ali regularly recorded and hear voice memos that he would send to her. He accused Ana of cheating and would say that he was the reason she was able to come to the United States. To Ana’s friends and experts interviewed in the documentary, this indicated that he viewed her as his property.

After multiple domestic violence incidents, Ana broke up with Ali, who told Ana that she could stay in the apartment they shared while he left. Ana agreed, staying in their home with their daughter.

On the morning of October 25, 2021, when Ana took her daughter to school, Ali used a copy of an electronic key to get into the apartment and vandalized the apartment. Before he left, Ali installed an app on his daughter’s iPad that allows him to listen in on her conversations. When Ana returned home, she called a friend to tell them the apartment was a mess. Knowing it was Ali who caused it, she said on the phone that she wanted to clean it up so her daughter wasn’t confused. She also said she was going to get a restraining order against him.

She asked her friend to pick her daughter up from school so she could clean, and then she called her friend Rayburn Barron to come over and help. Ali was known to be jealous of Barron because of a comment Barron had once allegedly made about Ali being lucky to have a wife as beautiful as Ana. When Ali heard a man’s voice in the apartment, he rushed over. In the documentary, audiences hear audio recordings from Ali’s phone of him breaking into the apartment and shooting his wife and her friend.

A still from 'TikTok Star Murders' <span class="copyright">Courtesy of Peacock</span>
A still from 'TikTok Star Murders' Courtesy of Peacock

What happened to Ali Abulaban? 

Ali was arrested and confessed five hours after the murders. He was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, a gun use allegation, and a special circumstance allegation of committing multiple murders. A preliminary hearing for the case in Jan. 2022 was described by an attorney in the documentary as “explosive.” Ali lost his temper after a detective described the relationship between Ana and Rayburn as becoming more romantic. As the judge tells him to calm down, he becomes enraged and starts to yell at the judge. “You think I wanted this? For my five-year-old daughter?” he screams at the judge. “Who the f--k are you? I’m f--king hurt! My life is destroyed!”

In an interview featured in documentary, Ali shared his side of the story on a local news channel with a reporter named Kelsey Christensen. He said that his social media fame “made him snap” and that it “messed with his brain.” The attention he got on social media made him “violent” and “aggressive,” he said.

Notably, in the interview, Ali talked about losing his “baby,” referring to his career. A friend of Ana’s said in the documentary that audiences could see Ali was more devastated about losing his business than losing his family. After the interview, someone posted a video on YouTube on his behalf which features a phone call where Ali tells his fans that he’s “doing okay for the most part” and apologizes for not being able to make more content. Ali was then criticized for apologizing to his fans rather than the families of his victims.

“Social media can be really dangerous in the hands of the wrong person,” Rolling Stone journalist Andrea Marks said in the documentary. “He clearly had a very unhealthy relationship to social media that muddied his understanding of reality and seemed to shape his impression of what was an acceptable way to behave. I think that’s something that’s worth paying attention to.”

His trial began on May 1 of this year and lasted until May 29, when he was found guilty on two charges of first-degree murder. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 28 and he faces up to life in prison.

Write to Moises Mendez II at