Copley High School junior Alyse Hanna and a friend were shopping Sunday with Alyse’s mother while vacationing in Grand Lake, Colo., when one of Alyse’s classmates called on the cell phone.
It was about 1:30 p.m. Akron time.
“I think Autumn’s dead,” was the message.
The details were sketchy, but news was circulating fast that eight people had been killed, and perhaps two Copley classmates were among them.
All three dropped to the sidewalk and began to cry.
They were 1,200 miles away, but barely two hours after shots rang out in Copley Township, they knew Autumn Johnson was a likely victim.
Modern communication — Facebook, cell phones, text messaging, the Internet via smart phones — rapidly spread the news, named names and allowed people to express emotion and exchange information.
Over the next several hours, classmates changed their Facebook photos to include Autumn, or to make a statement about her, or to share information that there would be a candlelight vigil that night.
By mid-evening, about 300 people were on hand for the vigil.
The Rev. Robert Denton, executive director of Summit County’s Victim Assistance Program, said the Copley killings “may go down as the largest single homicide” in Summit County.
He said social media helped propel the dissemination of information. In a tragedy like this, that can be helpful, or hurtful.
Being able to post thoughts of support gives the public a vehicle for expression, he said, likening it to “a community ritual.” At the same time, it could be hurtful if inaccurate and “explosive” information is posted.
Denton, a resident of Copley Township, was a part of Sunday’s healing after the tragedy.
About 10 counselors from his organization were mobilized and spent more than eight hours in the neighborhood where the killings occurred and at the Copley Community Center, working with families of victims and police who had been part of the drama.
“We must remember these whose family trees and histories have been forever changed in our prayers and thoughts,” Denton said.
“The immensity of the impact and the nature of it stuns us.”
By Monday, at least four Facebook pages had been set up memorializing the victims.
“R.I.P. Johnson Family” had gathered nearly 3,300 people who “like” the page.
“I graduated from Highland High School in ’02, and while we were rivals then, all our hearts and prayers go out to our neighbors in Copley now,” a man posted. “We need to set aside our differences and come together as a community. Living in Florida now, I am used to seeing ‘my area’ make the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and now it seems as though it is happening more and more in Medina and surrounding areas. R.I.P.”
Three people posted a video using songs sung by Autumn’s friends. They called it Autumn’s lullaby.
“I loved you from the start,” were the words of one rap song. “You have all my heart.”
Another Facebook account, “The Copley Massacre Memorial Page,” had more than 2,000 “likes.”
“Our prayers go out to all, the victims, the families and the law enforcement teams. God Bless All,” wrote one.
Another, the “Johnson Family Memorial Wall,” had nearly 500 people who had joined as of Monday evening.
“In reading over all the messages here and other sites, there are no words I can add, other than to say you have the whole community of Copley with you all,” wrote one woman. “Thoughts and prayers are with all families and those close to them.”
Carrie Silket and daughters Hannah and Hailey established a “Michael Johnson Family Benevolent Fund” at FirstMerit Bank to help the Johnson family.
Silket said she has known the family all of her life and her children were active in BMX racing with the Johnsons.
“It not only touches the families, it affects all of us,” she said.
More than 900 people have friended another Facebook account set up for the other 16-year-old victim, whose name has not yet been released.
“This is the hardest thing i have EVER had to face,” wrote one. “We are all here praying for you and wishing you the best. We love you sooo much(:”
Talking from Colorado, Alyse Hanna’s mother, Kim Shama-Hanna, said that accompanying them on vacation is Alyse’s classmate Faith Morgan.
Both girls were friends with the two victims and knew the Johnsons.
“They were such good people,” Shama-Hanna said of the family.
Alyse Hanna recalled that the unidentified girl liked to walk barefoot. “I want to feel what God created on my feet,” she would say.
When the three dropped to the sidewalk and began to cry, one pottery artisan at Grand Lake gave a cross to Shama-Hanna and the girls.
“It means as a people we connect and we comfort and we gain strength from each other,” Shama-Hanna said.
They did that on Facebook, with Alyse posting a message: “You will live forever in my heart.”
But the contact on Facebook and by cell phone isn’t enough.
They’ll cut their vacation short.
Faith Morgan said they want to get back.
“I really want to be home and be with friends and family,” she said.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at email@example.com.