Mass shooting in social media age: A lifeline -- and live view to horror

By Sara Shayanian
Parents watch their cellphones, waiting for word of their children near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday in Parkland, Fla. Photo by Gary Rothstein/UPI
Parents watch their cellphones, waiting for word of their children near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday in Parkland, Fla. Photo by Gary Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 15 (UPI) -- As a teen gunman stormed a suburban Florida high school on Wednesday, cellphones became a lifeline between parents and kids -- and a real-time witness to the unfolding horror.

As they crouched under desks, hid in closets and ran from bullets, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland did what comes natural to every American teenager -- they whipped out their phones. They texted their parents. They posted messages, photos and live video to Snapchat and Instagram.


For parents on the outside, a text was a message of hope. Their child was still alive.

For those whose phones were silent, it was excruciating agony.

Desperate messages and photos flooded Facebook and Twitter feeds from the school community, seeking any signs a beloved student had made it safely out of the school.


"Still nobody has heard from my cousin ... If anyone has connections with the hospitals or sheriff's office and can find out any information please let us know asap," wrote one.

"PLEASE HELP and SHARE If anyone has seen or heard from my cousin ... please let me or my family know -- she was in Douglas. We are extremely worried. Anything helps. Please share this post....," wrote another.

Others used social media to let family and friends know their kids were safe, as hours went by before many parents could reunite with their kids in the chaos.

Some resorted to using the "Find My iPhone" app to help trace the whereabouts of their children as they frantically waited for updates.

One Facebook post asking for help finding student Jaime Guttenberg was shared over 2,000 times. It was later removed, when she was confirmed dead.

Another relative's post searching for her niece was shared over 12,000 times on social media.

Inside the school, students were capturing the tragedy on live video.

"My school is being shot up and I am locked inside," Aidan Minoff, a student at the school posted on Twitter, adding photos of him and other students seated on the floor of a classroom.


Students recorded themselves crouching in a corner of a classroom as blasts of gunfire drowned out the screams from other students. One image showed a computer screen in a classroom punctured by a bullet.

On Twitter, a video posted shows students huddled in a corner of a classroom when a SWAT Team enters, pointing the guns at them as the students raise their shaking hands.

"Put your phones away! Put your phones away!" an officer is heard ordering on the video.

Carl Mumpower, a clinical psychologist in Asheville, N.C., told WLOS teenagers are naturally prone to share and connect using technology -- even during a crisis such as a mass shooting.

"I think it's great," Mumpower said. "I think people can reach out to each other and support each other and pick up information."

David Vaile of the Cyberspace Law and Policy Community at the University of New South Wales in Australia was not applauding. Social media sites like Snapchat, he said, are exploiting users' impulse to share information online.

"Without realizing, you could be broadcasting your location and making yourself more vulnerable in this situation," Vaile told the Sydney Morning Herald, adding students could "be encouraging other kids to stage real or hoax shootings in order to get attention."


In the Parkland case, social media is part of the investigation -- from building a timeline of events on campus to understanding the mindset of the accused shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said investigators were looking into Cruz's Instagram and other social networking pages.

"Some of the things that have come to mind are very, very disturbing," Israel said of the social media sites. "Everything he posts on social media is about weapons. It's sick."

Latest Headlines