TAMPA — How do you express grief when tragedy strikes?
For the friends of Colin and Megan Campbell, shot to death last week by their father in their sprawling Avila home, the answer was simple and immediate: social media. Raised on Twitter, Facebook and other phone-based apps, accustomed to sharing their emotions and opinions on everything else going on in their lives, they quickly took to social media to voice their pain and share memories of the Campbell kids.
“Just absolutely mind-boggling,” Danielle Daley tweeted.
“Still in denial about all of this,” posted Nick Rogers.
Colin Campbell, 18 and Megan Campbell, 15, were found dead in their family’s rented Avila home Wednesday after a fire destroyed the house. By Friday, investigators announced that Darrin Campbell, the teenagers’ father, shot his children, his wife Kim, and himself before setting the house ablaze.
Friends of the teens, who were students at Carrollwood Day School, posted photos of the Campbells on their accounts and tweeted images of balloons released in their honor Wednesday. They created hashtags like #CDSSstrong and #prayforthecampbells and organized gatherings like a trip to IHOP in honor of Colin Campbell, who loved to eat pancakes at the restaurant.
One girl, who identified herself only as “A,” posted a photo of cookies she made “in honor of Mama Cams homemade chocolate chip cookies.”
Grief counselors from the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay were at the school last week after the fire, to help students process the situation.
It is not unusual for teenagers to express their grief on social media, said Debra Harris, director of 2-1-1 and the Crisis Hotline at the center. While it might seem unusual to an older generation, social media is the communications tool of the day, she said, and grief experts encourage teens and young adults to post their feelings rather than keep their emotions a secret.
“As long as they’re sharing, they’re moving forward,” Harris said.
The students are feeling shock, anger and confusion in addition to grief for the friends they lost. As time goes on, they will begin to process those feelings and post even more, Harris said.
“Give it another week as the shock wears off,” she said.
Sally Karioth, a grief expert and professor at Florida State University, said there can be downsides to grieving on social media.
Sometimes, young people will share stories that the families of the deceased might not be ready to hear, she said in an email. Social media users often don’t realize the impact of their words and the size of their audience.
“With social media you don’t have to deal with people’s responses or reactions so there are no emotional or relational consequences,” she said. “It often sterilizes grief and allows the writer to say things but not necessarily feel things.”
On Friday afternoon, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies confirmed it was the Campbell family inside the house and officially classified the case as a murder-suicide.
Some of the Campbells’ friends struggled with the news online.
“Darrin Campbell didn’t do it,” one girl, who goes by “ells bells” on Twitter, posted. “He’s not that kind of person.”
But even before their fears were confirmed, others were focused on remembering the Campbells as they had known them.
On Thursday, Jack Syron, who is listed as a friend and teammate of Colin Campbell’s on the Carrollwood Day School baseball team, tweeted a post encouraging people to cherish the good memories they have of the family.
“No matter what this investigation pulls together, everyone remember the Campbell’s as YOU remember them,” he tweeted. “A family of laughter, happiness, and love.”