The deadly school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, once again provided a reminder of how unverified information can unfortunately thrive in the hours and days following tragedies. Nineteen children and two adults were killed in the shooting on May 24. The husband of one of the teachers who was slain also suffered a fatal heart attack just two days later, which his family attributed to his own grief.
One early false rumor that came out of the Uvalde school shooting said that Salvador Ramos, the gunman, entered the school while wearing body armor. However, The Associated Press later reported that he wore a tactical vest, not armor over his entire body.
Another false rumor claimed that pictures identified Ramos as a trans woman. The photographs showed a specific trans woman who had nothing to do with the shooting. Right-wing internet users and U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona, were involved in sharing the misinformation.
A third unverified rumor said that police officers had gone in to rescue their own children 91 minutes before the shooter was killed. The rumor indicated that a number of officers went into the school, rescued only their own children, then went back outside. It was shared on Twitter by racial justice activist Shaun King. However, no evidence has yet come to light to show that this happened.
It was reported that off-duty Border Patrol official Jacob Albarado, along with some others, went in before the shooter was killed and rescued a number of people, which included his own daughter. However, this was very different from what the rumor appeared to describe. (Yet another rumor said that Albarado killed Ramos. This was false.)
It’s unclear why so many social media users so willingly share unverified rumors in the minutes, hours, and days following mass shootings. The Uvalde shooting in particular perhaps presents a unique and complicated case compared to past tragedies. The reason why: There has been a considerable amount of scrutiny and conflicting information around the length of time it took for law enforcement to breach the door where the gunman was located. It's also not fully known what information and commands were communicated between officers both inside and outside of the school on that day.
What we’ve learned in the past is that the best course of action is to wait for all of the facts to come out, even in the situation with the yet-to-be-explained law enforcement involvement in Texas. Wait to let the rumors sift through, so that the truth becomes clear. That truth and resolution may provide some comfort to the families and friends of the victims, who lost loved ones forever.