As news about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School spread through the Parkland, FL, community and far beyond, a crisis of a different sort settled around James and Kimberly Snead.
As details of what happened remained unclear in the minutes and hours following the shooting, one thing become crystal clear: The young man they had allowed to live in their home was charged with murdering 14 high school student and three adults, and injuring more than a dozen more.
Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old charged with the killing spree, had lived with the Sneads since late November. A friend of the Sneads son, Nikolas was without a permanent home after the death of his adoptive mother.
For many, the response to such a negative situation is to shut down and hide from media attention. But here’s the problem with that approach: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you.
We can learn from the couple’s grace under pressure, and their approach to an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America. From a crisis management perspective, here are three things the Sneads got right:
They weren’t defensive. There is nothing defensive in the comments made by the Sneads. They make it clear that they are as confused and shocked by the tragedy as everyone else, and in no way do they attempt to diminish either their role in this tragic story or the feelings of others. “We were devastated. And I can’t imagine the pain they must be feeling,” Kimberly Snead said in the GMA interview. “Nothing that we can say is going to be any kind of help. … “
They were authentic. There is confusion, pain and anger in this interview. While the couple remains composed throughout the interview, there are raw moments. Kimberly Snead described her encounter with Nikolas at the police station in the GMA interview: “… I went after him. I wanted to strangle him more than anything.” She says she yelled, “Really, Nik? Really?” That’s authentic, not a talking point.
They don’t avoid the difficult questions. While GMA was a relatively friendly interview, there were hard questions asked. Did the Sneads know about the violent tendencies shared by Nikolas on various Instagram accounts? Why did they allow him to keep guns in their home? What about killing animals? There are tough questions, but the Sneads didn’t duck them.
Under severe emotional pressure, the Sneads remained open, honest and forthright, a good strategy in a crisis of any magnitude.
Cindy Miller is CEO of Cindy Miller Communications.