Howard County Police Twitter

This screenshot from the Howard County Police Twitter account (@HCPDNews) shows updates from shortly after the shooting at the Mall in Columbia. (Screenshot / February 6, 2014)

Shortly after Darion Marcus Aguilar shot and killed two Zumiez employees, before killing himself, at The Mall in Columbia on Jan. 25, Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn was quick to act, taking to social media to keep residents and media outlets informed.

Llewellyn and the rest of the police department's public information office continued to rely heavily on social media, Twitter and Facebook, throughout the investigation.

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Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Luke Lavoie asked Llewellyn about the use of social media during the aftermath of the shooting:

Q: Where were you when you heard about the shooting?

A: I was at my daughter's basketball game.

Q: Was your first thought to go to social media?

A: Yes. I left the game and before I started the car, I tweeted that there was a confirmed shooting at the mall and more information would follow.

Q: I think it's fair to say social media was the main conduit of information to the public from police during the shooting. Where did the idea to rely on it so heavily come from?

A: The idea was not to replace traditional media outreach, like press releases, but to supplement that effort. Recently, we had relied on social media as one of the primary methods of communication during an officer-involved shooting.

It was very well-received by the public and the media, so it made sense to use that model in this situation, as well.

Q: Obviously it is important in the beginning as information is just coming out, but talk about the use of it in the days following? Specifically, the tidbits about the shooter's journal.

A: Sometimes in an investigation, new details are confirmed that can help update information that has already been released. While we certainly don't have the resources to issue regular updates in every investigation, this incident understandably garnered an unusual amount of attention with the community and the press.

One of the great things about social media is that we are able to update the public simultaneously with reporters. We also can offer everyone a single resource for the most accurate information, which helps dispel rumors.


Q: How does it work? Do you receive info from officers, who OK that it can be relayed to the public?

A: In this incident, Chief (Bill) McMahon and I worked side-by-side for the duration. I am very lucky to work for someone who is open-minded and who trusted that this public outreach model could be a good supplement to our traditional communication methods.