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After Surviving Colorado Tragedy, Going Online to Cope

BY Nick Judd | Friday, July 20 2012

Whenever something out of the ordinary happens — just plain weird or, in this case, tragic — it seems like someone who uses the social link-sharing site Reddit was there, and is willing to share their experience with others online.

After a shooting at a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo. that has so far left a reported 12 dead and 24-year-old James Holmes in police custody as the alleged attacker, people affected by the violence turned to their friends and family for support. In some cases, this meant turning to fellow Reddit users.

Over the next few hours it'll be safe to expect a lot of coverage about how the Internet offers a new lens for people outside of these events to connect with people who were there. In this case, though, we're also seeing people who went through a traumatic experience going online to share what they saw — partly, it seems, for help getting it off of their chests.

Kashmir Hill at Forbes has already noted the case of a Reddit user who says a bullet grazed him during the attack and posted photos online.

"no one will believe me until i post the picture," he wrote in an earlier thread, "but i was there and i was shot... well, grazed really. i'm doing all right just a little shook up. me and my girlfriend waited unrtil it seemed the shooting was finished so we were some of the last people out of the theatre and there was a lot of blood. i will do an AMA once i am out of the hospital."

He later said he was reconsidering out of fear for what the conversation might turn into.

Another Reddit user, using the alias "Peener13," posted on Reddit looking for help to calm down. She's been going back and forth with users for hours, responding to skepticism about whether she was there — posting a photo of her ticket stub as proof — and answering questions.

"OP, did you happen to see a girl with blondeish hair, with piercings?" another user asked her.

"She's a good friend of mine, and and we live very far from each other, so I need to know if she is fine," the user wrote later on in that comment.

"Peener13" said she didn't see the girl, but the other user, "courier6ix," wrote back later to say that the friend in question was okay.

In the hours after the shooting, many people who wanted to find out more — whether they were journalists looking for the story or just regular people hoping to make sense of a tragedy — turned online. That's just how it's done now. BuzzFeed spoke with Morgan Jones, an 18-year-old from Denver who aggregated news in a series of Reddit posts as more information came out.

But people who were in the thick of the tragedy turned online to make sense of things, too. "Peener13" said she was in the theater adjacent to the one where the shooting happened.

"The shooting began during a gunfight scene in the movie, and at first, we thought it was special effects when smoke rose up," she wrote on Reddit. "When shots happened again and people began to run, we thought something was up. A guy ran in and shouted there was a gunman in the building, and the alarms to emergency evacuate started to go off."

In a follow-up email conversation, "Peener13" — a 21-year-old student at the University of Denver who asked that I not use her name — said that she and her boyfriend were "both very shaken up."

"Sleep has been lacking," she wrote to me in an email, "and what few hours we've been able to get have had nightmares of the situation. I'm taking some of the Redditors advice and just taking deep breaths, meditating, and thanking my lucky stars over and over with how fortunate we were to escape unscathed."

It might seem odd to look to strangers on the Internet after such a traumatic event. But it doesn't seem quite so odd given how many other people were doing exactly the same thing.

"And your initial reaction is to post it on Reddit?" one user asked her.

"Well no," Peener13 replied, "my initial reaction was to get as far away from the theater as possible. Called my roommate/sister to tell her I was ok and on my way home. We sat for over an hour just talking about it. She went to bed, and I got online because I didn't know what to do."