Ryan Lanza, Adam Lanza and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting mix-up explained

Confusion surrounding the identification of the suspect in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting mounted as the day went on.

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  1. Young children wait outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. (Reuters)
  2. Amid the bedlam of reporters, media outlets, police officials and citizens trying to make sense of the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., false and inconsistent narratives emerged of what exactly happened and who was involved. Names were reported as suspects, social media accounts were targeted and harassed, and an already dizzying situation was made even more unnavigable.
  3. It all started with this name: Ryan Lanza

  4. Police first identified a suspect in the shooting that took the lives of more than a dozen children and several adults as Ryan Lanza, of New Jersey. Major news outlets, including CNN, The Huffington Post, The Associated Press and BuzzFeed began to cobble and search for background on Lanza. In the rush to confirm, reporters and others bombarded several social media accounts linked to Lanza's name and his location. The account pictured below became the most prominent, a result of the profile's owner listing himself as from Newtown and living in Hoboken, N.J.
  5. Tweets and status updates on Facebook condemned these "Ryan Lanzas" without official confirmation that Ryan was actually the shooter. They represented a mix of anger and bewilderment directed toward Ryan with comments like "this is the shooter," "The face of pure evil...may you rot in hell," and "how could you do this? this is the man that committed this awful crime." These and other comments flooded Facebook as users shared photos from Ryan's profile and retweeted old tweets from accounts with that name.
  6. By early evening on Friday, Ryan's profile picture had been shared more than 13,000 times.
  7. But then things got even more confusing when...
  8. Police reported that Adam Lanza (Ryan's brother) was the shooter, not Ryan.

  9. Some news organizations had still run with the social media accounts and reported them as the real shooter's account. After status updates were posted to Ryan's account debunking those claims, some of those reports were later removed, retracted or corrected before the police confirmed that the shooting suspect was actually Adam. The owner of the Ryan Lanza Facebook page used most by news outlets posted statuses to his account denying that he was the shooter and condemning the media for using his social account as reportage. 
  10. The Associated Press, which at one point also reported the shooter as Ryan Lanza, went back on its reporting and published a new report that explained part of the confusion:
  11. "The suspect in the Connecticut school shootings is Adam Lanza, 20, the son of a teacher at the school where the shootings occurred, a law enforcement official said Friday. A second law enforcement official says the boy's mother, Nancy Lanza, is presumed dead. Adam Lanza's older brother, Ryan, 24, of Hoboken, N.J., is being questioned by police, said the first official. Earlier, a law enforcement official mistakenly transposed the brothers' first names."

  12. "EDITOR'S NOTE: There are currently conflicting reports on the shooter's identity. Police originally identified the suspect as Ryan Lanza, but now state police Lt. Paul Vance says the shooter's identity remains unclear. Check back for further updates."
  13. Journalists, who arguably had taken the reigns of the story beyond what the police had announced, were yet again wrapped up in a major breaking news story and an escalating debate as to the best practices for reporting the series of events.
  14. But the name it all began with ended up not being involved at all.

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