California — As I scrolled through my Tiktok For You page, the phrase, “I am a school shooter” was the last thing I expected to hear. But Jon Romano has been creating social media content about his story for over a year.
In 2004, 16-year-old Jon Romano entered Columbia High School in New York with a shotgun. He fired two shots at students and one at a teacher, who he injured. Romano served 17 out of the 20 years of his prison sentence. And since his release, he presents himself as an advocate for mental health awareness and tragedy prevention.
On the initial post I came across, in which Romano responded to a comment that asked if he’d spoken to his old classmates and introduced himself, most of the comments were positive — expressing that Romano’s message and perspective is necessary. Romano frequently mentions that his former classmates and their families support his work. But his comments turned negative, and he turned them off claiming his supporters were being “harassed and threatened.”
@jonseekingpeace Replying to @amber.nonya old classmates who have reached out #albanyny #truecrimetime #jonromano ♬ original sound - Jon Romano
Following Romano’s viral video, I saw several viral stitches with primarily negative responses, saying that 17 years wasn’t enough time in prison — that he was hurting survivors of other school shootings by having a platform. These videos were from people with anywhere from no following to thousands of followers, shocked to hear Romano’s story.
@starscream__ cred to clip @whomamagonecheckme2#greenscreen #greenscreenvideo #jonromano ♬ It's 3 A.m with no One at My Side (Remix) - Betinho Santos
In a way, I can understand why people see Romano’s preventative work with anti gun-violence organizations as productive because of his unique perspective. But given how sensitive the subject is for survivors, families of victims and a large portion of American students and their loved ones, this work should be done more privately. Amassing a following and posting casual content isn’t contributing to our common goal of safety, so seeing Romano appear as an influencer can not only be uncomfortable, but even painful.
Audrey La Jeunesse (she/her), is a high school senior from the Bay Area.
Edited by shaylyn martos