Parenting

Shameful: Grieving Family of Child Killed by Alligator Further Victimized by Internet Outrage Machine

Image via Orange County Sheriff's Office

I cannot see this child’s little face without crying and grieving for his parents. This precious boy, who is the same age as my baby boy, was snatched from his parents in the most horrific way anyone could imagine. He was dragged away in the jaws of a beast of prey as they watched, powerless to stop it, while they were at the happiest place on earth, Walt Disney World.

The horror of it cannot be overstated. I used to live in a country where people would stop what they were doing when something like this happened and they would grieve and cry and pray for comfort for this family. The people of my former country would have sent cards of encouragement through the mail and left flowers at the gates of Disney World in remembrance of this poor soul taken so young and so violently. The countrymen I loved would have rejoiced with the family of the four-year-old child who was saved by quick-thinking zookeepers from the danger of a wild gorilla into whose territory he fell. They would have praised the zoo, and celebrated that this family wasn’t attending a funeral for a beloved child.

But we don’t live in my former country anymore. We barely even go out into it these days. We live on Facebook and social media. On the surface it seems fun and interesting, chock full of cat videos and cute baby videos — and we aren’t sure how we got through a day before this wondrous invention. But then tragedy strikes and the outrage machine cues up a virtual mob to destroy someone’s life.

Years ago the phrase “15 minutes of fame” was the descriptor for someone who would exploit tragedy to make a news segment and say something outrageous. Today, you only get about 15 seconds of fame and you get it by attacking a grieving family and getting a million hits on your outrage meme (none of which I will be linking here). People are literally making money on the suffering of grieving families and it makes me sick.

I hope the people pointing fingers at these grief-stricken parents who just lost their baby, accusing them of being less than attentive, are really just trolls in their basements who have no moral compass. I hope it’s not you. I hope you, parent, did not take part in this. I hope that you are crying with me today for this family that is suffering what every parent fears. It isn’t their fault. Tragedy strikes the innocent. It isn’t even Disney’s fault, although we would like to be able to blame someone for the awful attack that took this boy’s life away in an instant. Even I thought, “My God! Why don’t they have fences around a natural lagoon?” The truth is that no one at Disney World would have ever wanted this to happen to anyone and the company probably took many steps to ensure it wouldn’t. But even the best laid plans fail. I know some Disney employees who are grieving deeply over the loss of this child.

Pointing fingers from behind keyboards at people who are grieving is demented. Would you go to the funeral of this child and point at his mother and father and tell them they should have done something differently? None of you keyboard warriors would ever have the courage of your convictions to do something that terrible in real life, but you will spew your hatred and venom at these people from your safe armchair, protected by anonymity they aren’t lucky enough to have. It was an accident and a reminder that we are not invulnerable to this wild place we inhabit, even though it feels like we have everything under control.

Social media is quickly replacing real human interactions and the typed word is always far harsher than anything we would ever say in person. Facebook has tricked society into thinking that because something has 100k likes or someone has a million followers, somehow that equals validation. The idea that 500,000 people could “like” a petition to jail the parents of a child who fell into a gorilla pit because they cared more for the gorilla than someone’s son, or 1,000,000 people could “like” a petition to shame grieving parents who lost their son to an animal attack is unacceptable. I don’t want to call you my countrymen if you “liked” that.

Today, get off Facebook and go hug your children and thank God you have another day to hold them in your arms. Then I challenge you to go to the store and buy an actual card (not a virtual one) and send it to Matt and Melissa Graves with words of love and support. Let’s be the America we used to be.

Cards can be addressed to:
St. Patrick’s Parish
20500 West Maple Rd.
Elkhorn, NE 68022