Can Social Media Be a Source of Healing During Times of Tragedy?

In the wake of one of the worst shootings America has ever seen, our eyes and heavy hearts continue to take in the unfolding coverage of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. In a matter of hours, victims’ Twitters, Facebooks and blogs became viral as we invested ourselves in remembering the stories of the people we would never meet. In a unifying movement, our retweets and condolences gave us the chance to reach out to complete strangers to show our empathy and compassion. At a time when a gunman shook our faith, Twitter and social media has given us the space and opportunity to speak out against this senseless violence and begin to restore a security and faith in one another.

In recent years, through tweets, messages and videos, our intake of information has shifted from news reports to first person, minute-by-minute updates. Like a flipping coin, social media keeps us connected to life’s joys and darkest days while making us all bystanders to the world’s tragedy. As she quickly becomes the face representing the 12 victims of Aurora, the death of Jessica Redfield has left her family and community heartbroken. Just a month earlier, Jessica had escaped the Eaton County shooting in Toronto, only to become a victim a month later in Aurora. As an aspiring journalist, Jessica had written about surviving her first shooting, using her posts as a way to grapple with her own thoughts while reminding others to be thankful for each day of life.

I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.

I feel like I am overreacting about what I experienced. But I can’t help but be thankful for whatever caused me to make the choices that I made that day. My mind keeps replaying what I saw over in my head. I hope the victims make a full recovery. I wish I could shake this odd feeling from my chest. The feeling that’s reminding me how blessed I am. The same feeling that made me leave the Eaton Center. The feeling that may have potentially saved my life. 

An avid social media contributor, Jessica constantly updated her Twitter and blog, leaving tweets of her excitement about the Batman movie minutes before she was killed. With our exploration of her online account, the girl that we will never know has begun to materialize before us. While we wish that the odd feeling in her chest had saved her one more time, her message of the blessing of life stays with us just as she hoped. To honor her memory and spirit, Twitter users have retagged her tweets, messages from her mother and mourned for the loss of this young life. Starting #RIPJessica, Twitter users from across the country have reposted:

#RIPJessica Mother of @JessicaRedfield of Colorado asking #RIPJessica to trend instead of killer. Said she loved twitter. Tweet it please.
On their online publication, The Daily Sauce has written a tribute to their memories of Jessica, archiving photos and her past articles with their publication. To inspire other sportscasters chasing their dreams, the Official Jessica Redfield Sports Journalism Scholarship Fund has been established on behalf of her family and since her death, has raised $38,316 from donors around the country. The word about this scholarship has travelled through all social media platforms, reaching such a wide audience through Facebook, Twitter, and reposted messages. With a simple tweet and Facebook message, Jessica’s memory will not be forgotten in Theatre Nine.

When we think of a singular tweet, the 140 characters make a tiny difference, and some might argue, no difference at all. A tweet cannot change the unforgiving decision of James Holmes to shoot into that crowded theatre. Our Facebook status cannot change the heartache and loss of each family member, friend, significant partner and child. Yet, this Twitter movement has allowed us to communicate in ways that were never before possible. These tweets allowed a country to come together and raise $38,000 in a matter of days to honor a girl many of us never knew but have felt an indescribable connection to. While our scars continue to heal from these tragedies, social media continues to show us the good in other people and in the darkest moments, show us human compassion and empathy that defies languages, borders and cultures.