On Friday, students from Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville signed on to Twitter to make plans for the weekend.
It was one of the last weekends of high school for the Class of 2011. Students tweeted with friends about graduation, about television shows, movies and music and about parties. They traded one-liners and gossiped about classmates.
Haeley McGuire, an 18-year-old Magruder senior, signed on and retweeted a message from a friend:
@ gnourtina by HaeleyMcG Count your blessings, not your problems.
It was her final digital fingerprint on the online social network.
On Sunday, McGuire was one of . The trio left a digital trail of their lives on social networks that friends, classmates and people who they never met have used to connect, remember and mourn.
The five young adults traveling in the car—none older than 20—belong to a generation that lives online, spreads news online and grieves online.
Stories of the three victims' lives will be shared over the next four days at their funerals, . But by Sunday afternoon, just hours after the fatal crash, their online community had already begun to spread the news and share memories of lives lost.
From Facebook, pictures emerge
Early media reports of the fatal crash included details and photos culled from the victims’ Facebook pages.
McGuire’s page showed that she was due to graduate on May 31 and planned on attending the University of South Carolina. Spencer Datt, 18, graduated from Magruder last year and attended High Point University in North Carolina, according to his Facebook page. John Hoover, known as Johnny, graduated from Magruder in 2009 and attended the University of Maryland, College Park, according to Facebook.
In the wake of the crash, many Facebook profile photos showed pictures of Magruder students posing with their lost friends.
The social network includes photos of teenagers hanging out with friends, acting silly, having fun.
Some media reports—and comments linked to them online— seized on details on the page of Kevin Coffay, the driver in the crash. Coffay, 20, and 19-year-old Charles Nardella, known as Charlie, survived the crash. Coffay, who police say fled the scene, .
Coffay’s Facebook page, which was viewable online Sunday but could not be found on Monday, listed him as a 2009 graduate of Magruder who is majoring in communication studies at James Madison University in Virginia. He is a member of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and worked as a lifeguard with Georgetown Aquatics last summer, according to Facebook.
Under “Activities and Interests” on his Facebook page, Coffay included “beach, partying, drinking, wrestling, lacrosse, snowboarding, surfing, anything fun, hanging out with friends, summer.”
With access restricted to victims’ Facebook pages, new pages sprouted, including one that identified McGuire as “Athlete.” Hundreds of people clicked the page’s “Like” button in the days after the crash. As of Tuesday night, the “Like” count stood at more than 1,400.
Meanwhile, on a Facebook page called “ Funeral Services for Spencer Datt,” visitors posted condolences and, by Tuesday night, nearly 300 people had marked “Attending."
People in and around the Magruder community turned to Twitter to spread the tragic news and to post reactions ranging from profanity-laced shock to poignant tributes in the 140 characters or less.
Some conveyed the suddenness of the loss and reflected on the fragility of life:
@ YoungPharaohC I saw all three of u guys yesterday Haeley McGuire, Spencer Datt and Johnny Hoover, NOW YOUR GOING HOME SMH RIP
@ sandyh136 The magruder car accident has opened my eyes to not take my loved ones for granted. Not only that, but my health; I'm lucky to be alive.
Others noted the number of Magruder students lost in recent years and pleaded for students to make better choices:
@ Mike_Wallz nooo not another one... R.I.P. Haeley Mcguire... CAN WE PLEASE LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES! How many people have to die before we wise up?!
Social networks also connected people who didn’t know the victims well, but shared in the pain of those who did:
@ DoseOfRee Haeley McGuire, John Hoover & Spencer Datt passed away in the car crash in onley, i didn't know them but rest in paradise .
@ TeAmo_Lola RIP to all the Magruder High School students who have passed. I can't even imagine what you're going thru
@ LHayes_13 RIP Haeley McGuire... I only met you once, but you were such a sweet girl. My heart goes out to her family.
Many offered prayers:
@ dzdork Hugs and prayers from a Sherwood mom to Magruder kids & family-hoping our Alex will help Haeley, Johnny & Spencer.
Members of the school community noted that the tragedy had brought Magruder together:
@ Leor494 Damn this really shows you tho Magruder is a family. We all lost a sister and two brothers today, and its a day we'll never forget - 5/15/11
@ JustCallMeYenni We should all have a big group hug tomorrow at magruder<3
Tributes in words and music
Tweets also offered musical tributes, including a link to a YouTube video of a Magruder alumnus recording a song he wrote for the crash victims:
Some mentioned Datt’s love of hip-hop, which merited a mention of Datt by rap star Lupe Fiasco and led friends to revisit YouTube videos of Datt rapping:
@ chrinter2 Listening to the lyrics of Spencer Datt on Youtube... Just makes me wonder, WHY OH WHY MUST IT BE MAGRUDER.
Some mentioned lost friends by their Twitter username, including those who offered memories of McGuire and in some cases retweeted messages she had posted:
Several people retweeted McGuire's last dispatches from Twitter, including song lyrics that McGuire tweeted on April 27:
The lyrics are from a song by the English alternative rock band The Smiths called “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.”