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Twinsburg's role in a tragic social media saga

Police chief warns of placing immediacy before accuracy, says social media can be used for good

By ANDREW SCHUNK Editor Published: April 26, 2017 12:00 AM

TWINSBURG -- The city did not go unaffected by the tragic events that transpired between the Easter Sunday murder of Robert Godwin Sr. and the April 18 suicide of Steven W. Stephens, a.k.a. the Facebook killer.

Stephens shot and killed himself April 18 after a brief pursuit by Pennsylvania State Police in Erie, Pa., according to the PSP, after he posted a video to his Facebook page of him shooting and killing Godwin. Godwin was seemingly chosen at random.

With the horrific shooting available for nearly two hours at the popular social media site, Twinsburg Police Chief Chris Noga wants the public to be wary of the downside -- and upside -- to social media, and the rampant, false information that can spread as immediacy, and not accuracy, is too often the priority.

"As a society, we can't continue to foster fear and panic by spreading bad information through social media," Noga said. "Neither quick snippets of radio traffic on a police scanner nor social media feeds can accurately encompass the complete story of a critical incident in real time. While social media is a powerful tool for sharing information quickly during critical incidents, those who post incomplete, out of context or unverified information via Facebook, Twitter or other platforms actually foster a greater sense of anxiety or, worse, incite mass panic in our communities.

"Law enforcement can't always tell the whole story to the public until an incident has reached its conclusion."

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Twinsburg's connection to the national manhunt emerged when authorities discovered Stephens' ex-girlfriend lives in Twinsburg, and that Stephens likely visited her home on Ridge Meadow Court just days before his apparently random Easter Sunday shooting of Godwin, 74, at 635 East 93rd Street in Cleveland.

Throughout the nearly two-day search, Twinsburg police observed the residence of the ex-girlfriend at the apartment complex off East Idlewood Drive, and increased their presence April 18 at the city's five schools (there was no school in session April 17), Noga said.

The 37-year-old Stephens' April 16 Facebook rant focused on the couple's breakup and subsequent murder of Godwin.

"It's been a busy couple days for us. We're asking everyone to be vigilant," he said April 18.

The Twinsburg Police Department added "additional protection" for the Twinsburg School District, at Bissell Elementary School, Wilcox Primary School, Dodge Intermediate School, R.B. Chamberlin Middle School and Twinsburg High School while Stephens was at-large.

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"We are pulling from our patrol to provide a presence," Noga said. "Safety and security are our mission."

Twinsburg School District Superintendent Kathryn Powers sent out a Blackboard Connect message to all parents April 17, asking all to be vigilant but to proceed with normalcy. All extracurricular activities April 17 and 18 proceeded as planned.

Powers said she received calls from parents April 17 who were concerned about "how to help protect our kids."

"We made the decision to officially request an increased presence from police," Powers said April 18. "We are in contact with local authorities, and we have our emergency management plan. Thanks to the assistance from the Twinsburg police, it was business as usual. There's nothing more important to any of us than our children."

"The Twinsburg Police Department will take appropriate measures to share information if we reasonably believe that our community is in immediate danger," Noga said. "In the aftermath of this horrific tragedy, I hope that we individually and collectively examine responsibility to use social media wisely."

Email: aschunk@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9424

Twitter: @twinsburgohio

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