In the mad dash to identify the person responsible for the Friday shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, online news sources and thousands of social media users may have shared a photo fingering a man who had nothing to do with the shooting.
Ryan Lanza, 24, was identified Friday afternoon as the shooter responsible for killing 26 people at the elementary school.
By 2:45 p.m. Friday, more than 10,000 people had re-shared a Facebook photo of a Ryan Lanza with comments like "killer" and "rot in hell."
But according to the Twitter account of a person who claims to be friends with the person in the widely-circulated photo, that particular Ryan Lanza was not the shooter.
Andrew Fletcher tweeted a screenshot purportedly from Lanza's Facebook page, which included status updates reading, "I'm on the bus home now it wasn't me" and "Everyone shut the f*ck up it wasn't me."
The gunman was killed at the elementary school.
It is not immediately clear that the incorrect person was identified, but if so, it could be an extremely costly mistake for news publications, including a number of online news outlets that ran the photo.
Another Ryan Lanza, whose Twitter handle is @ryan__lanza, also found himself thrust into the news story. That person angrily tweeted on Friday afternoon, "haha i didnt kill anyone, stop spamming my twitter please."
so aperently im getting spammed bc someone with the same name as me killed some ppl... wtf?— Ryan Lanza (@Ryan__Lanza) December 14, 2012
The Facebook account of the Ryan Lanza whose photo became an object of near-universal disdain was disabled by 3:30 p.m.
A longer version of Lanza's Facebook feed was tweeted by @MattBors. In it he writes, "F*ck you CNN it wasn't me."
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Steven Nelson and Diana Soliwon are news producers at U.S. News & World Report. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.