Recent reports that Nikolas Cruz, who shot and killed seventeen people at Parkland, Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, has been inundated with fan mail and inspired the forming of alternately sympathetic and worshipful social-media groups echo some of the disturbing responses that followed the July 20, 2012, Aurora theater shooting, when James Holmes took twelve lives and injured seventy other patrons at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
A number of Cruz-related Facebook groups that popped up after the Parkland shooting have already been pulled down — an indication that the folks currently running Mark Zuckerberg's creation, which has lately been under fire over privacy concerns and plenty more, are doing their best to tamp down the negative publicity that tends to accompany articles about such content.
The service didn't act with this sort of speed six years ago.
Many of the tribute pages to the Aurora theater shooter were discomfiting attempts at humor. Here's an example:
In contrast, plenty of the other pages seemed to have been sincere — most notably a Facebook group called "James Holmes Is Innocent."
The group claimed in its introduction that its 332 members (as of September 2012) had come together to prove that the then-available information about the Colorado tragedy may not have told the whole story. The official tale included a number of inconsistencies, the authors claimed, as well as clues that may not have trickled down to the general public but that the group was eager to share.
The page stressed that it wasn't the place for hate of any description, including bigotry and racism, and rude behavior and attacks wouldn't be allowed. Those who posted were encouraged to treat everyone with respect, whether they agreed with their views or not.
In addition, the intro discouraged users from posting about each conspiracy theory that arose, noting that there were other forums for that. It concluded by asserting that justice and truth for everyone involved was the page's main goal. Members weren't trying to condone the taking of lives or blindly backing murderers, the passage maintained, but they backed the philosophy that everyone is innocent until proven guilty — even James Holmes.
Sample posts included one that asked if bad grades could really have motivated someone as clearly intelligent as Holmes to act out in such a horrific manner. Another wondered if Dr. Lynne Fenton, Holmes's psychiatrist prior to the massacre, might have been using some kind of mind control.
Today, most of the links to these tribute pages are broken. However, at least one remains online at this writing, although it is no longer active; the most recent item on it, from October 2016, reads simply, "I'm done."
Nonetheless, plenty of posts continue to linger beneath photos of Holmes yawning in court and actor Heath Ledger as the Joker, with text on memes and the like appearing in Spanish as well as English.
A rough translation of the meme above: "Why am I here again? Oh, of course. Killings."
A studious effort appears to be under way to erase this sort of Internet history in the case of Cruz — but eliminating all of it will be difficult. For instance, a Facebook group called "Nikolas Cruz: The First Victim" is gone, but a tfund.com site that was selling T-shirts bearing a sensitive portrait of the shooter and the hashtags #NikolasCruzTheFirstVictim, #supportmentalillness, #StopBullying and #IStandWithNikolasCruz continues to linger.
Not that it received much attention. A notice reads, "Bummer, we didn't reach our goal" of twenty shirt orders. The number requested? Zero.