A Frenzy of Mistaken Identity

A Frenzy of Mistaken Identity

As the tragedy unfolded in Connecticut, the Twittersphere — and the press — went wild with speculation about the killer, rumored to be in NJ.

Storified by NJ News Commons · Fri, Dec 14 2012 18:13:48

By mid-afternoon on Friday Dec. 14 — the day 20 children were shot dead in their Connecticut elementary school — news had spread that the suspect in the mass shooting was from NJ. Initial rumors had him as a parent at the school, and his age was alternatively given as 20 or 24 years old. Reports swirled that NJ police were searching his home. By mid-afternoon, a location had emerged — Hoboken — and a name — Ryan Lanza — along with another rumor: that a parent had been found dead in Lanza’s apartment. Inevitably, people found Lanza’s Facebook account and a purported Twitter account and began spreading his picture and words around the web.  
UPDATE: Is the Connecticut school shooting suspect from New Jersey? http://njpm.co/Z6804T #NJ #NJSP #ctshooting #newtownAsbury Park Press
Parent of suspect gunman in Newton CT Sandy Hook Elementary found dead in New Jersey home: @PeteWilliams @NBCNewsRichard Lui MSNBC
Law enforcement official says Mother of Suspect in #Newtown Connecticut found dead in New Jersey apartment.Shimon Prokupecz
CNN’s Susan Candiotti names suspect as Ryan Lanza of New Jersey. Here’s the likely Facebook page: http://slate.me/UMm3ni @SlateTrips Reddy
But then Lanza, supposedly dead in a school in Connecticut, began posting to the account
This Ryan Lanza Says ‘IT WASN’T ME’ on Facebook http://r.spruse.com/Xnr4VM @amarchugg #newsTechallo
In the middle of the fray, @jeffjarvis remarked about some disturbing tweets from someone with the then-suspect’s name. Some fellow tweeps called him on it. And just moments later, the person behind that twitter account — who would have been dead had he been the gunman — tweeted.
@jeffjarvis we don’t even know that’s his Twitter accountAnthony De Rosa
@jeffjarvis @AntDeRosa That Twitter account is tweeting again, so probably not him.Steve Kovach
@AntDeRosa right. followed up with proper phrasing.Jeff Jarvis
Jarvis soon wrote a blog post apologizing for his tweet, which he also deleted:  “I did not say ‘if this is the account of the killer, then…’ Or I did not say this was the ‘alleged’ or ‘repute’ account of the person named as the killer. These are basic, basic journalistic skills drilled until they are reflexes and I would use them in any story for print. I didn’t use them online.”  He was widely praised for admitting his mistake so publicly.
This is impressive. Thank you. “@jeffjarvis: I confess my journalistic sin on Twitter today: http://buzzmachine.com/2012/12/14/i-confess-a-journalistic-sin/”Kevin Perry
While all this was going on, friends of the alleged gunman were saying  that they thought there was a mix-up and the real suspect was likely to be Ryan Lanza’s brother. Eventually this version began to be confirmed by law enforcement and the press, and the name of the brother came out: Adam. 
RT @QUChronicle: CNN unnames Quinnipiac alum Ryan Lanza as shooter, Associated Press reports officials identified suspect as 20-year-old Adam Lanza.Brian Ganci
Who was reportedly handcuffed, and brought in by Hoboken police for questioning. 
Why cuffs? Kind of mean. MT @TheMatthewKeys WCBS-TV confirms this is Ryan Lanza being handcuffed by Hoboken police – http://pic.twitter.com/qfBycrFhLrry Keho
BREAKING: Official: Police are questioning Ryan Lanza, 24, of Hoboken, older brother of Connecticut shooting suspect Adam Lanza. -SSAP Breaking
The same twitter circus that turned Ryan Lanza into an internet piñata now pointed a collective finger in condemnation of the mistake.
Social media’s power and the 48 hour news cycle #CTShooting "How the Internet Got the Wrong Lanza-The Atlantic Wire" http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/12/adam-lanza-ryan-lanza-facebook-profile/60011/Jason K.
The misreport of Ryan Lanza is absolutely unacceptable and irresponsible, whoever was responsible should be prosecuted.Josef Burn
#Fail >>Media Reports Named The Wrong Lanza As The Sandy Hook Shooter http://www.businessinsider.com/the-wrong-ryan-lanza-pictured-on-cbs-2012-12?0=law via @bi_lawandorderJessica Sabbey
And Ryan Lanza finally emerged not as the villain but as a victim.
RT @HobokenPatch: #BreakingNews | Ryan Lanza, Wrongly Named As Mass Murderer, Left To Grieve | http://hoboken.patch.compete conlin

Poynter does a great job of documenting the story here.

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