Yet Another School Shooting Brings Good Comms Response

Thom Weidlich 04.07.22


This weekend saw a raft of tragic U.S. shootings that gave rise to good communications in horrible situations. Tuesday brought another one, at a high school. Unfortunately, educators have had to learn how to communicate these incidents, and the school system released a statement that was a model of crisis messaging.

The incident occurred about 9:20 a.m. local time on April 5, in Erie, Pennsylvania. A student fired shots in the school and another student was injured and in stable condition. The police were searching for a “known person of interest.”

Within hours the school district had a full statement on its Facebook page and website (there may have been earlier, less-complete statements). The message provided the straightforward facts: that a student had been shot and was in stable condition. It included what the school had done to address the incident: It had gone into “hard lockdown,” and after the building was secured, sent the students home and canceled classes for the week.

Emotion, Empathy

It expressed emotion and empathy. “We are devastated and angered by this senseless tragedy, and we are all hoping for the full and speedy recovery of the student involved,” Superintendent Brian Polito was quoted.

Polito thanked the police for their quick response and nodded to the priority the district gives to safety. He said the district was working on a plan for students and staff to return. He also tried to put the incident in a wider context (unusual in a statement of this kind): “Incidents like these are a reflection of a troubling rise in youth violence in Erie,” he said.

The statement noted counselors would be available for students, staff and parents, and included where they would be and said other locations would become available.

Further Information

It also checked the important box of noting that the district would provide further information “in the coming days” as it became available, and mentioned the channels: the Facebook page, website and telephone-notification system.

The statement provided needed information, noted what actions were taken, expressed empathy and thanked law enforcement. Getting this right can be hard in a fast-moving crisis. There was at least one miscommunication early on: that the shooter was already in custody, which turned out not to be true (he turned himself in Wednesday night).

Alas, U.S. communicators are having to become too expert at this sort of messaging. CNN noted that shootings across the country over the weekend left at least 13 people dead and 40 injured. These included incidents in Dallas, San Francisco and Sacramento, California.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter on crisis communications. Each week we highlight a crisis story in the news or a survey or study with an eye toward the type of best practices and strategies you can put to work each day. Click here to subscribe.

Related:UNC Releases Summary of Active-Shooter Review