Now that we know the shootings last week in Manhattan near the Empire State Building were a curious mix of both murder and bystander-gone-wrong, I’d like to take a moment to deconstruct the dramatic unfolding of events that happened that morning over a 2.5 hour arc to demonstrate how the social news spread first, as a terrorist attack on the Empire State Building, and ultimately became the truth of a revelatory revenge murder.

When I was in Manhattan on the day of the shooting, I was on my way to the area in question when I received an alert on my iPhone at 9:20 am that there was a “shooting at the Empire State Building.”  I scanned my social networks and trending topics appeared to suggest there was a “man with a machine gun” at the Empire State Building and “nine people were killed in that terrorist attack.”

Getting news like that turned me around and sent me straight back home.

At 10:20 am, more details were flowing on the internet and, now that I had access to live television at home, I was able to get deeper into the live stream of ever-changing information.  Reporters on television were indicating the shootings were not terroristic, but rather a “three way love triangle” where a spurned man had gone to the place of employment of his former beloved and, before he could shoot-to-kill her, the woman’s work manager stepped in front of her to save her life and was killed in the crossfire.  After the woman escaped, the gunman committed suicide because he shot the wrong person.

By 11:15 am, the television news stations were now vaguely reporting an update that a “disgruntled fired employee had returned to the workplace to seek revenge for his dismissal and shot his boss.”

At 11:45 am, Mayor Bloomberg and the Police Commissioner gave a detailed, and sickening, report from the middle of Fifth Avenue in front of the CUNY Graduate Center:  “A man fired a year ago had returned to the workplace for a revenge killing and two NYPD officers shot the man.”

More details of the shootings have emerged since that time — but I am still amazed at the 2.5 hour “Arc of Terror” that constricted around Midtown New York City last Friday.  The original information was wildly inaccurate — even in the Age of Immediate Live Witness Social Networking Streams — and yet the basic message, “shots fired, stay away!” was clear and concise enough to change structured behavior and, perhaps, even save lives.

How we find our news — both the good and the bad, and the always ugly, and how we choose to evaluate those events — are the tools we use to craft a society and to hone a context of understanding for our moral core and it all unaesthetically lumps together to help us try to evaluate the location of our safe social center with others.

One easy lesson the tragedy taught us is that this notion of an armed populace who will carry guns to create immediate vigilante justice on the street by shooting a shooter is now confirmed to be complete folly because if two, veteran, NYPD marksman-trained officers can mistakenly wound nine citizens with 16 shots, then the untrained unwashed would do more collateral killing of innocent bystanders than they ever would shooting a lone gunman on the street.


    1. The problem was the echo. People thought they were hearing balloons popping. They couldn’t judge the direction of the sound. When people started running, the other folks were able to pinpoint the start of the event — but I don’t think anyone within earshot, who wasn’t an eye witness, thought they were hearing gunshots.

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