Twitter, in Memoriam: Jessica Redfield’s Online Legacy

First off, I’d like everyone to take a moment of silence for those who were murdered today in Aurora.

Thank you.

I’d like to tell everyone a quick story, in case you haven’t heard this one yet. One of the victims of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado this morning was a young woman named Jessica Ghawi. Jessica, an aspiring journalist and sportscaster who went by the professional name Jessica Redfield, survived a mall shooting just one month ago in Toronto, Canada. She claimed that, sitting in the mall’s food court on the day of the Toronto shooting, an odd feeling came over her and she decided to go outside for some air, seconds before the gunman opened fire.

Now, in Aurora, Colorado, Jessica is one of the 12 people murdered in James Holmes’ killing spree.

I’m not going to focus on the crime that took place today. There is already plenty of coverage on that. Instead, I want to draw your attention to an odd and unintentional memorial that has been made for several people who have passed away.

These memorials are located on the website Twitter, and were created by the deceased themselves. Their profiles. Instead of a polished obituary focusing on the accomplishments of a person’s life or a heartfelt, shell-shocked statement from a close friend, a Twitter profile encapsulates that person’s life in their own words. Twice now I’ve visited profiles shortly after their namesakes’ passing – Jessica’s today, and Andrew Breitbart’s back in February – and I continue to check Andrew’s from time to time. Nothing is different, nothing is changed. It’s just this.

His last tweet, immortalized by time. For anyone who knows of Andrew Breitbart, the above image sums him up pretty well. Maybe it’s just me, but I find there to be something very poignant about that. The same goes for Jessica Ghawi, who was tweeting on her iPhone from inside the theater just hours before the tragedy. She’s snarky, charming, and confident. Although I never got the opportunity to meet her, just looking at her Twitter profile helps me understand better who she was. Never before in history has it been so easy for random strangers to learn about those who aren’t with us anymore. In the wake of something so awful, I think that it’s a special thing.

It’s one of those little anomalies that come about with our changing world. I hope that Twitter never takes these profiles down, and always leaves them active as reminders of the people who once manned them with keyboards and touchscreens. Rest in Peace, Jessica Ghawi, Andrew Breitbart, and the many other Twitter users who have passed away. We are all still following.


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