I don’t want to make light of this situation because it is very tragic, but it truly illustrates how important communication is and how bad it can get totally messed up!!!
I live in a fairly small community of about 26,000 people, and though I am sure it is nothing like Washington D.C. or East St. Louis we have our fair share of crime. Friday evening was one of those times. Let me first describe the situation how it was originally reported to me by different people within about and hour of the shooting.
At about 6:00 pm I got a phone call from my wife, she was at the salon with the girls getting their hair done. She had heard that a gunman had entered a local Fred’s store and shot and killed 4 people. She called back a few minutes later and told me that our friend that works there is fine, but heard that there was two gunmen. One was shot by the police and the other stole a police car after shooting the officer and got away.
About twenty minutes later I received a call from somebody else. They asked me if I had heard anything about the shooting and if I knew if any of our staff or kids were involved. I told him that I knew there was a shooting at Fred’s and that 4 people were shot. That a former staff member that works there was OK but I didn’t have any more information. He said that the gunman that took the police car had also shot up the McDonald’s, the Kroger grocery store, and the Wal-mart. I told him that I hadn’t heard that but if I hear anything about our staff or kids, that I would call him back. After the elementary program that we went to see at 7:00 pm was over our 5th grade girl came back and told us what she heard about the shootings and that 4 people were wounded and one person was dead and there was a bad guy still out there. I asked her how she knew this and she said her teacher told her.
I can honestly tell you that most people I talked to were really freaked out and had some strange stories. I was somewhat skeptical but I kept listening.
To the best of my knowledge, here is what really happened:
At about 5:00 PM the gunman approached two people at a self service gas station that is also located in the same parking lot as the Fred’s Store, as well as about 10 other stores. He fired four shots at a woman with a small caliber handgun, hitting her once. He then fired three shots at her male companion hitting him all three times in non lethal areas. The gunman was a 70 year old retired teacher and the first two people he shot was his wife, about 15 years his junior, and a former city councilman that had previously been convicted of felony crimes. It is believed that the man and woman may have been having an affair and that is what originally set off the gunman.
People started calling 911 right away and an officer just two blocks away responded. He stopped and got out of his car to confront the gunman. The gunman, who I think was trying to commit suicide by cop, started firing at the officer. I still haven’t heard where to officer was hit but it must have been somewhere not covered by his ballistic vest. The gunman then took his car and departed the area. During this time our Chief of Police, who was working out at a gym in the same shopping center, came out and fired at the gunman leaving in the police car several times as he departed the area.
The gunman drove about 6 blocks and abandoned the car near the Wal-mart. He temporarily eluded officers but was eventually shot in the back of the neck by an officer, while he was trying to get away. It was originally thought that he would not survive the shot, but he was transported from our local hospital to the University Hospital for specialized treatment just in case. Turns out it was a minor wound and he ended being released the next day and transported to the local jail.
Officer’s continued to look for the second gunman until about 8:00 pm when it was confirmed that there was only one gunman. Apparently the accounts given by witnesses differed enough for the police, wanting to be thorough, to continue looking for a second shooter.
Of the four people shot, none were critically injured. All are out of the hospital and two were released the next day. No bystanders were shot and shots were only fired in two locations. The original location and behind the Wal-mart, not the McDonald’s, or Kroger or any other location.
A question that I have is: Would the information been as distorted as it was if everyone didn’t have a cell phones? I think information can travel too quickly and a lot of bogus information gets shared. I also think that people get so wrapped up into a situation that they become more concerned about being a participant than getting their facts correct. Had people had their facts correct they could have saved the officers from spending two hours looking for a non-existent person.
We run into the same problems at many of the facilities we work at. How many times do people share bits and pieces of information about some staff member or child without really making sure of the source? How many times do we take action in a situation, without having all the facts or even worrying about all the facts? How many times do we just flat out spread rumors? These are things we need to think about before we communicate or take action, and I bet if we did, we would be much more effective.