Dr. David Benke is a Hero!!!! Facebook page -- and the pros and cons of social media following the Deer Creek Middle School shooting

As I mentioned in my earlier blog about the shootings at Deer Creek Middle School, my daughters, who attended there three short years ago, studied math under the tutelage of Dr. David Benke, who's credited with tackling gunman Bruco Eastwood, likely preventing much more bloodshed.

As such, they eagerly signed up on a new Facebook page dubbed Dr. David Benke is a Hero!!!!, which has passed 10,000 members at this writing.

But not all social media has been so positive. As Jefferson County Public Schools spokeswoman Lynn Setzer acknowledges, rumors of violence at other Jeffco facilities today began flying shortly after reports of the Deer Creek assault.

As a parent of Jeffco students, I receive automatic phone messages from the school district -- and one that came in during the late afternoon/early evening yesterday noted that "there are many rumors circulating on social media about other threats of violence at other Jeffco schools." After noting that no such threats had actually occurred, the message went on to say, "Parents are encouraged to talk to their children about making sure information is factual" on social media sites.

Reached this morning, Setzer underscores this theme.

"The reason we put out that message was we were hearing about kids saying different schools were next or that there had been a shooting at another school," Setzer says. "From what we were hearing, we thought we really need to ask parents to talk to their kids about spreading rumors that weren't true and heightening the fear.

"Social media is a wonderful platform for disseminating information quickly," she goes on. "The district tried to use it as much as we could and had time to yesterday. We had someone in my office tweeting as much information out to people who were following us. But if information is incorrect, it can be dangerous. And one of the rumors was that another of our middle schools was on the hit list today. Which obviously isn't true, but kids have a tendency to get caught up in the moment and not really think about what would be a good thing to put on Facebook or Twitter and what wouldn't be."

Such false threats have a tendency to replicate themselves. Note our blog yesterday about "everyone will die" graffiti found at Broomfield High School -- an incident very similar to one that took place earlier this month at Boulder High School.

Classes at Deer Creek were canceled yesterday -- a choice made easy given the needs of law enforcement.

"The sheriff's office sort of made that decision for us, because the school is still a crime scene," Setzer notes. "As soon as they turn it over to us, we can then start processing how long it's going to be before we can have kids back in their classrooms.

"One step before that is to let the children and their parents come back to the school and retrieve the belongings they left behind. About half the students were already on buses, but the other half were in school when they went to lockdown. And after that, they went to Stony Creek Elementary, which is their evacuation location, and when they evacuate, they don't take anything with them. The same is true for the faculty. They had their cars in the parking lot, and they weren't able to get their cars or any of their belongings.

"When the kids come back, we'll have counselors and teachers there and make that slow transition back into the building. And we also have mental health folks available this morning for our bus drivers at our south bus terminal. Many of them were witnesses to what happened, and we felt like they needed some mental health support as well."

Social media can aid people dealing with incidents like this one, by allowing them to communicate their thoughts and feelings with others about what took place. But Setzer hopes those who do so pick positive outlets like the Dr. Benke Facebook page, as opposed to passing unfounded gossip that will only make it more difficult for students throughout Jefferson County and beyond.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts