What role did Social Media Play in the Washington State High School Shooting : Online Actions often foreshadow Offline Realities

Photo Credit: Jason Redmond/Reuters

Photo Credit: Jason Redmond/Reuters








Jaylen Ray Fryberg, opened fired in the cafeteria of Marysville-Philchuck High School, killing two students and seriously wounding four others before killing himself.  Usually in these cases, we find that the teen shooter may have been cyber bullied or left to feel excluded in social circles.  However, Jaylen was a popular football player who had just been named to his high school’s homecoming court.

As authorities investigate the shooting, they will surely receive questions about gun control.  As parents try to understand why, this happened they will surely ponder the question, “How did this happen in our community?”  As students try to grasp the meaning of life, many will wonder why their classmate would want to harm them.

Although all the aforementioned thoughts are valid, I would like to start another conversation around this shooting and talk about the role Social Media and Online Safety played into this tragedy.   Like everyone else, I’m not sure of the motive, but many times we see “events” unfold online before they actually happen offline.

Reportedly Fryberg had been in a fight with another student and law enforcement sources believe a romance gone awry might have been the cause. Erick Cervantes, 16, stated, “He seemed like a nice guy, and he had lots of friends.  However in recent days Fryberg’s mood  change as a romantic relationship soured, according to his social media accounts.  During the months, weeks and days before the deadly shooting, Fryberg tweeted messages seemingly from a place of heartbreak.

“I hate that I can’t live without you,” read one. “Tell me what your plan is…. You can’t make a bond with anyone like the bond me and you have right now…. Tell me what your going to do…” read another more recent post.  Last week before the shooting, he posted, “It breaks me….It actually does… I know it seems like I’m sweating it off… But I’m not.. And I never will be able to…” His last tweet came Thursday: “It won’t last…. It’ll never last….”

As I stated previously, I’m not sure if the messages were related to the shooting, however I do know it’s worth the conversation.  In my travels of speaking with teens and parents about Online Safety and Social Media Responsibility, MANY of the teens are crying out for help and they do it via social media.  Unfortunately many parents aren’t comfortable with technology or have no desire to join social media outlets which prohibits them from monitoring their child’s online activities.

Two-years ago, 15-year Felicia Garcia committed suicide by jumping in front of a train in front of her classmates after being cyber bullied.  Days before her suicide she cried out for help via social media.  On the Monday before her death, Felicia tweeted, “I can’t, im done, I give up.”  Eerily Felicia’s Instagram update revealed her true feelings as she placed a picture of herself with the word “depressed” covering her eyes.  Her caption read, ““Just because someone is smiling doesn’t make them happy.”  According to the NY Daily News once Felicia arrived at the Huguenot subway platform she handed her cell phone to a friend, walked to the edge of the platform,  and as the train approached she said “finally , it’s here,” and fell backward into the path of the oncoming train.

Practical Tip for Parents:

This is a piece of advice, that does not require you to go online, however I must ask this question:  “Do you know what is going on with your child offline?  What is their state of mind?  Have they experienced a major life event (break-ups, low test scores, not being invited to a party,  not making a team, etc…are sometimes major for teens.)  They might not talk to you, but more than likely they WILL share it online, which will give you a glimpse into how they really feel.  Remember, Offline emotions often show-up Online.

In order for parents to know what’s going on Online, you must also be Online.  If your child is on Facebook, you should be on Facebook.  If they are tweeting, you should also be on twitter.  What photos are they posting on Instagram? You should know.   It is  imperative for parents to be active participants in their children’s online lives. Not to scare you, but their lives could depend on it.  I know, I’ve heard it before, “I don’t want my child to think I don’t trust them or “I believe my child should have some privacy, – and to that I say “No Excuses!”  There’s always a way to make it happen.

Don’t make it complicated.  Simply begin with a conversation, set expectations, discuss consequences.  End it with an “I love you,” and your child might gift you with a HUGE Offline Hug!


Marlin Page is a Globetrotting Speaker, Founder of Sisters Code, and thought leader on bridging the racial and gender gap in technology.  As Chief Technology Mommy, Marlin exposes online safety stories and empowers parents to keep their children safe on the Internet while encouraging teens to use social media responsibly.




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