The advice about being selective in whom you include as a social networking friend just got more validation.
Last week Patrick Sharp attempted a massacre outside the McKinney, Texas police headquarters. According to the police, the 29-year-old man set his truck on fire and hid several hundred yards away in a wooded area.
Attached to the truck was a trailer packed with wood chips, roadside flares, gasoline and ammonium nitrate fertilizer, the type used in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, but although the truck fire set the ammunition in the trailer off, it failed to ignite the explosives.
The truck fire appears to have been an apparent attempt to lure people out of the building and into his range of fire. Sharp reportedly fired approximately 100 rounds at the police station and at a nearby Collin College building, but the shots failed to hit anyone.
Less than five minutes after the incident began, Sharp was dead; the coroner ruled his death a suicide.
A 16 year old Georgia girl, who was an online friend of Sharp’s said that less than an hour before he attempted the massacre, Sharp contacted her on Facebook with a message that said “killers like to share their thoughts, seek attention,” and “I like to scare people. I enjoy watching people beg for their life. I like watching them drown. When they take their last breath, oh it’s amazing.”
In his message Sharp didn’t say who or what he planned to attack but reportedly told the girl he may have mental health issues.
The teenager said she met Sharp on a mobile social networking site called Mocospace, and that he often told her about his desire to kill people, especially children. She thought he was joking.
Someone needs to tell this teen that when 29 year-old strangers sound crazy online, it’s time to un-friend them.
On the day of the shooting he wrote to her “Just think of all the weird [stuff] on moco I said… Most of it was true.”
According to the Dallas News Sharp indicated on his Mocospace page that he had planned the attack before Tuesday morning. His last status update was Sunday, when he wrote, “I’m out for good y’all, [screw] all my haters.”
Then on Tuesday, after communicating with the teen girl, he posted his last status update on Facebook: “Goodbye everyone, I’m exodus”.
This story is shocking on a number of levels, but I’d like to focus on just one:
The teen girl who was a ‘friend’ of Sharp’s read a lot of really disturbed comments by Sharp over a period of time, but didn’t un-friend him. Why not? The Dallas News article also said that Sharp had planned to meet the girl, who lives outside Tampa, while visiting his sisters in Florida this weekend. Why would the girl be willing to do this? Meeting any online ‘friend’ requires strong safety precautions, but meeting someone who had been ranting like this would be insane.
How do we help teens – and adults – understand the red flags that warn when to end an online ‘friendship’? There isn’t yet a lot of internet safety education teaching people when to virtually walk (or run) away from an online contact, and this gap needs addressing.