Ohio: A Tragedy Unfolds Through Social Media

Teachers and students across the country were on guard Monday when they heard news of a tragic and frightening shooting at Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio. More than 13 years ago, when two boys opened fire at Columbine High School, news traveled much slower. Teenagers didn’t have cell phones. Social media was essentially non-existent. And the idea of a school shooting was almost unheard of in the United States. Today, not only does everyone have a phone, but they can reach their entire family on Facebook via blackberry or iPhone within seconds. Oh, and the shock factor has all but dissipated from the consciousness of U.S. Citizens.

At 7:30am on Monday, a high school student entered his cafeteria and began shooting. Two people were killed and at least three others were injured. Most of the students were either already in their classrooms at the time or making their way to class, leaving the dining hall far more empty than it might have been at other times in the day. The lone shooter, still unidentified according to several reports because of his age, was taken into custody soon after the violence began.

The last time an incident of this magnitude struck the nation was early last year in Omaha, Nebraska, when a principal and assistant principal were both shot multiple times (the latter becoming a fatality) in retaliation for an enforced suspension on a student. But even then, the tragedy took place at an odd time of day when most students were not present.

In the Chardon incident on Monday, teenagers and teachers were all over their cell phones, texting and networking to all the people they knew and loved. Parents who rushed to the school were able to connect with their children via social media, an almost absurd thought just ten years ago. Unfortunately, social media also has its flaws during a tragedy in which truth is difficult to parse. Children were often, either intentionally or unintentionally, spreading misinformation about the actions they perceived. Two gunmen? Shooter still on the loose? Ten people shot or just six?

At the end of the day, social media proved a greater comfort than any hassles it might have also created. Rumors were spreading, yes, but families were confident that their loved ones were secure in a locked classroom away from the danger. Injuries were sustained by three people, but most of the 1,100 students, faculty and staff were able to walk away from the tragic events in quiet contemplation. Our hearts collectively go out to the families of the two young people who lost their lives on Monday morning.

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