Valdosta Daily Times

December 1, 2012

How Facebook beat authorities in notifying family of student’s death

Quinten Plummer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The roles of new media and duties of social networkers are being investigated by the public once again, as news of a Valdosta State University freshman’s death may have been reported to her parents online before authorities could notify them in person.

Roughly two hours after Jasmine Benjamin was found deceased on a study room couch in VSU’s Georgia Hall, according to reports, Gwinnett County Police Department officers attempted to notify Benjamin’s family in Lawrenceville at the request of VSU police. However, Benjamin’s mother may have received unofficial notification of her daughter’s death through a Facebook message from a family friend.

Thressea Boyd, VSU’s communications director, said the university did everything in accordance with its rule book for passing along the tragic news of Benjamin’s death.

“It is Valdosta State University’s standard procedure to contact the law-enforcement agency within the hometown of the student’s parents or next of kin,” said Boyd. “The Valdosta State Police Department notified the Gwinnett County Police Department and officers from this agency made the official notification to Jasmine’s parents on Sunday, Nov. 18.”

GCPD officers found that Benjamin’s family was not at home and were in the process of moving when they were dispatched to the contact location listed in Benjamin’s file at VSU, according to GCPD Public Information Officer Cpl. Jacob Smith. He said officers left a note on the door, while they attempted to contact the family by phone and locate an updated address.

The GCPD officers first attempted to contact Benjamin’s family at 2:08 p.m. on the day she was ruled dead, Smith said. Officers made contact with Benjamin’s mother by phone at some point between the first attempt and 4:06 p.m., the time when officers personally notified the mother of her daughter’s passing.

Smith said he could not confirm if Benjamin’s mother was aware of her daughter’s death before or after detectives spoke with her, but concedes that there was ample time between the student’s discovery and her family’s briefing.  “The mother agreed to meet one of our officers back at the residence that the family was moving out of,” said Smith. “The mother said she was aware that something was wrong, just by the nature of the phone call.”

For decades, media outlets have allotted law enforcement agencies the time needed to locate the family of a deceased person and notify the bereaved via human contact. A family friend may provide more heartfelt condolences than an unfamiliar officer.

However, with Facebook and other social media, this is the latest case where family members have learned of a death not through officials sources but via reading a Facebook post or message.