After first being identified by media outlets as the alleged killer in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Conn., that left at least 26 people dead, including 20 children, 24-year old Ryan Lanza took to Facebook to deny the reports.
Andrew Fletcher, a friend of Lanza, posted a screenshot of the status updates on Twitter.
“IT WASN’T ME I WAS AT WORK IT WASN’T ME,” said Lanza, updating from his mobile phone.
“I’m on the bus home now it wasn’t me,” he said two minutes later.
“Everyone shut the fuck up it wasn’t me,” he said after that.
By 3 p.m. EST, his most recent Facebook profile picture — which had been promoted by numerous blogs and news outlets — had been shared across Facebook nearly 15,000 times.
When his Facebook account was first identified, the account had 124 friends. Within half an hour, 12 friends had “defriended” the account, including Fletcher.
“I had to unfriend him because I was getting a ton of friend requests,” said Fletcher. “I won’t be able to provide any further information.”
By 3:20 p.m., Lanza’s Facebook profile had been deleted.
As of 3:43 p.m., Fletcher’s Twitter profile was switched to a protected status, making his tweets private, after being flooded with requests for information. Social networks were flooded by user comments fomenting hatred toward Ryan Lanza.
Other users offered their apologies to other young men by the same name who had become the object of vitriol after having been falsely identified in media reports as the alleged shooter.
NJ.com reported that former Jersey Journal staff writer Brett Wilshe spoke with Ryan Lanza of Hoboken, “who told Wilshe the shooter may have had his identification.”
As of 3:45 p.m., police had not positively identified the shooter, although Ryan Lanza was reportedly taken into custody for questioning. His brother, 20-year old Adam Lanza, is reportedly the alleged deceased shooter found at the scene of the crime. His mother is also among the victims counted.
This is not the first time an individual has suffered from a case of mistaken identity through the use of social media to identify murder suspects. (RELATED: Obama mourns, calls for ‘meaningful action’)
The rabid hunt for the online web presence of Aurora shooter James Holmes led to several men by the same name getting wrongly caught up in the frenzy.
ABC News reporter Brian Ross incorrectly identified a Colorado Tea Party member by the same as the killer.
RightWing News blogger John Hawkins also committed the same sin with a different man by the same name, despite making the guess that the man he had identified was probably not the same Holmes, stating that “but nothing else on Facebook in the area seems to fit well.”
Update: An earlier version of this report relied on media reports indicating that Lanza’s father was among the deceased victims. Later reports indicate that Lanza’s father is alive and is in consultation with the police.
Update: This piece has been updated to accurately reflect the current and final victim tally. Previous media reports on Friday counted 27 victims; the final victim tally is 26.