Convicted school shooter sparks backlash after rising to TikTok fame

‘There are people who are never going to feel safe again because of you,’ one social media user wrote

Kelly Rissman
Thursday 05 October 2023 02:39 BST
School shooter Jon Romano sparks controversy on TikTok
School shooter Jon Romano sparks controversy on TikTok (Jon Romano / TikTok)
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Jon Romano opened fire on his New York high school in 2004 when he was 16 years old, and now, nearly 20 years later, he is making headlines again for his controversial TikTok stardom.

“After being a part of the problem, it’s time to be a part of the solution,” reads the bio on his TikTok account, @Johnseekingpeace. He has amassed 254,000 followers on the platform.

But some remain sceptical whether someone who fired a Winchester 12-gauge pump-action shotgun in his own school could truly advocate for violence prevention. Although Columbia High School saw no fatalities as a result of Romano’s attack, one teacher was injured.

He served time for attempted murder and reckless endangerment before being released in December 2020, records show. In the almost two decades since the high school attack, Romano seems to be dedicating his energy toward gun prevention.

After news broke of Romano’s TikTok fame — and outrage ensued — he posted a video on Wednesday. “I can never undo the pain and I have caused people in my past, but I hoped I could be a part of the preventing others from experiencing that pain as well. I’m sorry to those I have hurt with my platform,” the video caption said.

In the video, Romano added that he has done things “behind the scenes” to prevent gun violence and wants to continue to work toward the cause. But many aren’t convinced that he is reformed.

A host of TikTok users came forward, saying that they believe Romano shouldn’t have a platform. One user posted a video, which in turn has gone viral, condemning his use of social media.

She said she noticed Romano followed her on the platform, which she attributed to her posting a video asking teachers what they would do if there was a school shooting. The user, @youcancallmekait, described herself as an early educator who switched from teaching in public schools to private “because of gun violence.”

“I could not continue to go to work everyday and feel scared that I was going to die,” she said. Addressing Romano personally, she added: “There are people who are never going to feel safe again because of you.”

Her caption read: “This man should not have a platform. You said that your victims are retraumatized every time there’s a mass event. Don’t you think just seeing you is triggering? I don’t believe you for a second that you actually want to help. You just want attention.”

“He is not some healed person. He is not reformed. He is not rehabilitated,” another user said. “So stop giving him a platform. Stop rushing to his defence.”

Others have been direct with their confusion of his online presence or condemnation of Romano, posting comments on his TikTok videos.

Responding to a comment earlier this month that asked, “Why is there an admitted school shooter on here?” Romano answered in a video: “Well because I want to help prevent future school shootings.” He also said that he has “talked a lot” with law enforcement and has shared his upbringing and his “disturbed mindset” on social media that led to him to shoot up the school.

In a separate video, he responded to another comment that asked, “can someone redeem themselves about doing this?” Romano said: “My goal is not redemption for the school shooting I committed. My goal is prevention of other school shootings.” He added, “That’s why I’m on here.”

Romano stopped allowing comments on his videos, as of Wednesday afternoon.

This isn’t the first time that Romano has attempted to show his transformation since the shooting. After the Parkland shooting, Times Union wrote a story revisiting the 2004 attack that Romano committed. In response, he wrote a letter to the outlet, expressing his remorse — and echoed a similar sentiment to what he said on TikTok.

“I know that every time another horrible shooting happens, he and all of my victims are hurt all over again by what I did to them. I want to take away their pain, but knowing I cannot, I want to prevent others from experiencing this pain,” he wrote.

He even encouraged gun safety protocols: “I believe the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are courageous and inspiring for speaking out and demanding action from politicians.”

“Everyone nationwide should follow and accept nothing less than meaningful, life-saving policy changes from their representatives. Only then could this generation be the last generation that lives in a nation plagued by gun violence,” he added.

Romano spoke to Newsweek about the online criticism: “Despite the current backlash I am receiving, which I completely understand, I also continue to get a lot of people reaching out to me thanking me for what I do. Some of those same parents, teachers and even students who are frustrated with the lack of change, believe I can help save lives.”

“I can never undo what I have done, the pain and trauma that I have caused upon so many, but I am working towards preventing others from experiencing that same pain and suffering,” he added.

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