If something awful happens, somebody will witness it and write about it on the Internet. That should not be a surprise by now, but it's still arresting to read this kind of instant testimony.
It happened again last night, when a man walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., screening "The Dark Knight Rises," tossed some tear gas into the seats and started shooting, killing 12 and wounding 59. One individual in the next theater over at the Century Aurora 16 multiplex escaped, got out and quickly posted her recollection on Reddit under the headline "Someone came into our theater at the midnight release of Dark Knight Rises and began opening fire. Who here on Reddit can help me calm my nerves?"
The writer, who I know only by the Reddit handle of "Peener13", which she picked when joining the site a month ago, summed up her mental state as "I need an army of kitten photos stat." She then updated the post several times (for example, "Fandango just emailed me asking to review the movie") and seems to have spent most of today answering the 6,000-plus comments about it.
Another "Redditor" with the newly ironic handle of "themurderator" was in Theater 9 when suspect James Holmes opened fire and took a bullet in the back. He posted photos of his "very lucky but nonetheless terrifying brush with death," including the wound and his blood-soaked t-shirt and has drawn almost 7,000 comments — including one from a Redditor who said he had helped treat some of the victims at Denver Health Medical Center.
This is not the Reddit I first discovered four years ago, when it was merely one of a few interesting "social news" sites to link to and comment about news stories elsewhere. But now the news can happen on Reddit first, whether it's a quickly-typed firsthand account or one of its often-fascinating "AskMeAnything" Q&A exchanges, which have drawn the likes of Newark, N.J., mayor Cory Booker and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
I'm not sure why Reddit became the outlet of choice for the Aurora tragedy. The site's hospitality towards long posts and longer comment threads, its sense of community (the Meetup group for D.C.-area Redditors has 2,397 members) and the near-instant feedback provided by "upvotes" from other Redditors all come to mind.
But the news could have come out on Twitter or Tumblr instead. Or maybe on somebody's blog. After reading about Peener13's good fortune, I turned to a WordPress post from another person who escaped a mass shooting — sports journalist Jessica Ghawi, who left a food court in Toronto moments before a shooting spree last month.
Ghawi's luck ran out last night: She was one of the 12 victims in Aurora, not long after tweeting that "Of course we're seeing Dark Knight."
Credit: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery