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Appomattox Facebook memorials trump police, aid coping process

Teenagers, we are often reminded, can spread news faster than almost anyone else.

On Wednesday, as police tried to keep the identities of those who died in a mass shooting in Appomattox, Va. a secret until next of kin were notified, hundreds of the victims' friends flooded Facebook with memorial messages and photographs.

Long before police released the identities of eight people allegedly gunned down by avid gunsman Christopher B. Speight, friends had created "RIP" pages for Appomattox High School students Morgan Dobyns, Emily Quarles and Ronald "Bo" Scruggs, and another page dedicated to all the victims. (As of Thursday morning, it appeared that the page for Scruggs had been removed.)


On Wednesday, students posted heartfelt memories of the teens, expressed frustration and grief over the deaths, and spoke directly to the victims. This has become a far more common method by which teens grieve, as messages can be shared instantly with hundreds or even thousands of friends and relatives, and people far and wide can join in the experience of pulling together in an effort to cope.

Appomattox is a small, rural community, with fewer than 15,000 residents. People The Post interviewed on Wednesday knew the names of the sheriff's deputies who responded to the scene and the EMTs who tried to save a victim's life. Some knew each and every person killed in and around the house on Snapps Mill Road.

Dakota Henderson, 17, a mature high school junior I interviewed on Wednesday, said he knew all of the victims, which included Lauralee Sipes, her husband, her 15-year-old daughter Morgan, and her 4-year-old son Joshua. Also killed were Emily Quarles -- a friend of Morgan's -- and her parents, as well as Bo Scruggs, another high school friend.

Henderson was at the house on Saturday and said he didn't notice anything unusual. He knew Speight loved guns and the two had even shot target practice in the sprawling land around the house. He saw nothing that presaged what would come.

Henderson skateboarded with Bo Scruggs on Saturday night and said the group was likely at the house on Tuesday -- a teacher work day at school that meant students were off for the day -- simply to hang out.

The online memorials are touching, revealing, emotional, funny and intensely real. The Internet can make the world much smaller and memorials such as these allow the healing process to touch more people much faster -- and can make Appommatox seem that much bigger.

This post has been updated since it was originally posted.

-- Josh White

By Josh White  |  January 21, 2010; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  Homicide , Josh White , Technology , Updates , Virginia  
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