JSU Tragedy and Lack of Crisis Communications Plan

Nolan Ryan Henderson, a 19-year-old Jackson State student was killed early Sunday morning while at a party located in the Palisade Apartments, located a few blocks near campus. This tragedy is affecting his family, who is searching for answers. They are suffering a major loss and I am keeping them in my prayers. I only want justice for Ryan, no matter how long it takes. He was a great student and friend, more importantly he was a part of my JSU family.

I have major issues with the way that his death was handled, both from a professional and personal standpoint. Let me point out that Jackson State University was not the first to report the news to local media outlets! Jackson news stations and newspaper reporters heard about the incident from a student newspaper at the University of Southern Mississippi! 

Secondly, school officials did not notify his family about his death, his brother Damien found out about it through Twitter. Why did the school not call? Nolan was a JACKSON STATE STUDENT. Although, the incident happened on a weekend, he was still left in the universities care. They should have had the decency to call his mother instead of his brother having to tell his mother. What if Twitter didn’t exist? How long would it have taken the school to notify her?

Thirdly Jackson State University issued the following statement, AFTER Nolan was already identified by the media:

Jackson State University mourns the loss of a student who died after an off-campus shooting  Sunday morning. The identification of the student will be released following the notification of the next of kin. Jackson State University’s Department of Public Safety is assisting the Jackson Police Department in this investigation. University officials request that JSU students take extra safety precautions and be prepared to show official university identification when requested.This is a very tragic loss,” said Carolyn Meyers, Jackson State president. “As a parent and grandparent, my heart goes out to the family. We offer our sincerest condolences and prayers during this very difficult time.”  Grief counseling will be available in the Meditation Room of the Student Center from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday and will resume at 8 a.m. Monday. Individuals with information about the shooting should call campus police at 601-979-2580 or Jackson Police Department at 601-960-1234. 

Jackson State University officials could not be reached for comment when reporters tried to contact them in regards to the incident on the same day. They should have called an emergency meeting and been the first to contact media outlets in regards to Ryan’s death. In situations of crisis such as this, it is important to have a designated spokesperson to make sure that all messages sent to the media are both consistent and accurate. It is also important to establish a media center, specifically for the crisis, to keep an open line of communication for all parties involved. Jackson State University definitely needs help in terms of developing a Crisis Action Team.

When tragedy strikes for an institution or organization, it is important that people trust that the institution will be open, honest and communicate as much as possible. Unfortunately, this is not the first student death at Jackson State University, nor is it the first time that the University has swept a situation under the rug, so to speak.

Damien Henderson has been a true advocate for his brother through Twitter. By using #JusticeFor Ryan, he has been diligent in tweeting celebrities, and everyone that he can to spread the word of his brothers death, seeking  justice and peace for his family. He is not alone in his endeavor. He has received support from around the world,including singer Monica.

There will be a rally held in Ryan’s honor and also to urge students and anyone with information to speak up and step forward. My heart goes out to the Henderson family and friends, nothing can prepare anyone for a situation like this. I pray that God will continue to keep them strong in faith.  I pray that justice will be served for Ryan and that Jackson State University learns from this in many different aspects.  Ryan lost his life at an early age due to a confrontation that could have been avoided. He is remembered as a great student, son, friend and brother. Rest in peace Ryan!

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