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I clearly remember Tuesday, April 20, 1999.

I’m sure the rest of the country does as well, but for me it was the marking of the first real tragedy I had ever witnessed firsthand. The only time I have ever been more afraid was on the morning of 9/11.

I grew up in Jefferson County, Colorado, a fairly safe and beautiful community which boasts the Coors Factory.

That day, I was working on something in the middle of my 5th-grade classroom when suddenly the principal rushed in — tears in her eyes, panicked, screaming something about getting away from the windows. We were all herded into the school’s auditorium, rightfully terrified, as the teachers padlocked the doors and huddled onstage. They were whispering frantically, crying hysterically, but would not say anything to us — children ranging from five years old to ten.

Eventually the adults composed themselves and attempted to calm us down. We were informed that our parents would be coming to get us immediately — school was done for the day. We played games uncertainly while children trickled out erratically, embraced by parents who looked like they’d never been so happy to see them in their lives.

Then: Columbine.

Part of what has terrifyingly become a pattern of truly tragic, needless violence. School massacres.

It took some time before news of the tragedy got out to the public. Adults working 9-to-5 jobs were not watching the news, and many news outlets did not regularly update their websites (nor did many citizens read them). By the end of the day, my mother and I were in a blood bank preparing to give blood. Dozens of people surrounded us then, the line was out the door, and all bleary eyes were watching the broadcast news for updates. There was no other topic of conversation. But this process took several hours. Most people found out through word of mouth.

Today: Oikos University.

Today was another tragic day. Around 10:30 this morning, a shooter in Oakland‘s Oikos University shot at least six people. My heart goes out to them, their families, and everyone who has been affected. It breaks my heart.

However, there is an interesting angle regarding how law enforcement successfully handled this needless catastrophe.

According to Mashable and Stephanie Haberman‘s article, the Oakland Police Department utilized its Twitter account to spread the word about the shooting, encourage people to evacuate, hunt down the shooter and update information regarding fatalities. When they had an idea of what the suspect looked like, people could keep their eyes peeled and tweet back any leads. The local news was utilizing Twitter as well, and citizen journalists took to Twitter to inform their friends and followers.

Technology is changing the way we communicate in such a rapid way. I learned about the most recent Virginia Tech shooting through Twitter last year. Clearly social media has evolved from simply a way to entertain ourselves. It is a way to educate ourselves, to protect ourselves, to arm ourselves.

My prayers are with all those whose lives changed today.

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