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How a coroner’s report about a Santa Rosa 15-year-old’s death went viral

On Tuesday morning, a Twitter account called Reopen California Schools posted the image of a Death Investigation Synopsis Report prepared for the Sonoma County coroner’s office.

The “manner of death” was ruled “undetermined,” but the report, which outlined the sudden passing of a 15-year-old Santa Rosa boy, hinted at a connection to a coronavirus vaccine shot the teen received two days before he died.

Over the next 48 hours, news of the fatality — and the picture of the coroner’s report — spread through social media channels and partisan websites across America. And beyond.

“Vaccinare con questa merda di intruglio i giovanissimi può portare i vaccinatori ad una morte cruenta ! ( avvisati siete ),” one Twitter user commented. Wrote another : “La police du comté de Sonoma, en Californie, blâme le macaron pour avoir causé la mort soudaine d’un adolescent de Santa Rosa.”

That first message is Italian for “Vaccinating the very young with this sh*t of concoction can lead the vaccinators to a bloody death! (warned you are).”

The second is French for, “Police in Sonoma County, Calif., Blame the ‘button’ for causing the sudden death of a Santa Rosa teenager.”

A local family’s most intimate tragedy, the unexpected death of a seemingly healthy child, had become part of a global, multilingual call for relaxed health restrictions, less government control and, especially, repudiation of the COVID vaccines.

This one hit close to home for Sonoma County residents, but it certainly isn’t the first time since the start of the pandemic that social media has weaponized a medical issue. Consider the many laymen who have drawn conclusions from the sparse entry for the Santa Rosa boy’s death in the national Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

“I can tell you, that’s not how you’re supposed to look at it,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an infectious disease epidemiologist and pediatric vaccinologist who works for Stanford University. “It would be like me reading an article about cardiac infarction and thinking I could go in and do an operation. And I’m a doctor. So I don’t know how someone can read an article and deduce whether something like that is a fact or not.”

Rumors of the teenager’s death had apparently been circulating in the community since the incident occurred in early June. But it didn’t erupt until Tuesday, when the Twitter account for a group called Reopen California Schools posted a copy of the coroner’s report, with a caption that read, “BREAKING: PRA’d Synopsis Report from Sonoma County Sheriff’s office reveals otherwise healthy 15 year old died in June from heart issues due to second Covid vaccine two days prior.”

“PRA” is a reference to the California Public Records Act, a 1968 law, which gives citizens access to a wide range of government documents.

As of Friday afternoon, Reopen California Schools’ original post had between 500-600 retweets, and a similar number of likes. That’s not exactly viral-content territory. Yet over the days that followed, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s report flowed from there and into a vast, well-established network of right-leaning platforms.

One of the first to jump on the story was RedState.com, whose opening paragraph read, “Over the 18 months of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, data and studies worldwide concerning children and COVID-19 have shown the chances of contracting and spreading COVID-19 are minimal compared to the adult population.”

RedState’s story was picked up pretty much verbatim by timebomb2000.com — which has a heavy focus on anti-Biden, anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine material — and by NWO Report (the initials standing for New World Order), and by CitiGist, a more varied aggregating site.

For those who insisted the coroner’s report had connected all the dots, the home run came when the Charlie Kirk Show website ran its brief version of the story on Wednesday. Kirk is a prominent conservative activist and talk show host with 1.7 million Twitter followers.

The sprouting of that original Reopen California Schools post surprised its creator only a little.

“I intentionally did not even post it to the Facebook group,” said Jonathan Zachreson, a 37-year-old father of three who lives in Roseville. “I knew that if I posted it on Twitter — it’s a little different platform — it would be enough for other news agencies to look into it. My frustration is that nobody was covering it.”

Reopen California Schools, which Zachreson formed a couple months after pandemic-related government health orders shut down campuses in 2020, has generally focused on in-person learning vs. remote learning. The story of the 15-year-old’s death wound up enmeshing the group with the “red pill” regions of the internet.

Some vaccine-hesitant people bristle at being boxed into a political movement. But the social media accounts and media organizations that pounced on the coroner’s report were typically plastered with images of Donald Trump, Pepe the Frog and memes hostile to Anthony Fauci and Joe Biden.

The story found the outer edge of the genre when RedState’s version was copied and pasted by Infowars, the media site led by Alex Jones and now largely de-platformed because of its tendency to spread conspiracy-laced rumors, such as Jones’ insistence that the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax. Infowars’ headline was, “Sheriff’s Office Attributes California Teen’s Death to Second Pfizer Jab” — a view that Sonoma County officials have hotly disputed.

Zachreson said that while it would bother him if someone twisted his words, he doesn’t concern himself with who is reposting his news, or where.

“Obviously people are gonna spin it,” he said. “There’s been imbalance on both sides. There’s sensationalism in the media. My frustration with the media is you’re afraid. Mainstream outlets are afraid to cover it. I wish we could have honest conversations without trying to cancel people.”

It wasn’t just large media sites amplifying and categorizing the boy’s death. It spread on social media, too. That included the Facebook group Reopen Sonoma County. There, the liquid nature of COVID vaccine truth was on full display. A user identified as Tessa M. Berg wrote, “I heard a RUMOR that the pathologist was prevented by people higher up from listing the cause of death as vaccine and so explains the wording.”

Asked to cite her source, the user replied, “I heard it from someone who knows someone who knows someone who works at the coroner’s office.”

Daniel Snyder, for one, insists his view of these vaccines is based on a deep level of reading and study, and that preparation was evident in a recent conversation during which he argued that so-called mRNA vaccines like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna aren’t truly vaccines, that the delta variant is no more lethal than the flu virus and that more children are being injured by the shots than by the novel coronavirus itself.

“If they didn’t tell us about this (death),” he said, “how many others have they not told us about?”

It was Snyder, as it turns out, who opened Pandora’s box and let fly the contested coroner’s report. The Windsor father of three, who works in cybersecurity, received the image of the report from a source he declined to identify, but confirmed that it originally came from a Public Records Act request. And he passed it along to the like-minded Zachreson.

“I’ve been a quiet person, but COVID has opened my eyes to how often we’re lied to and misled, especially by health officials,” explained Snyder, who, like Zachreson, says he does not generally oppose vaccination. “I call the CDPH the CDPU — the California Department of Unhealth, because it doesn’t feel like they’re following any health guidelines. As many nurses and doctors are refusing to get the vaccine, you can’t say it’s based on science.”

For the record, the grieving parents of the 15-year-old made it clear Tuesday in a statement to the Press Democrat that they fully support the effort to vaccinate children, calling the shots “safe and effective.”

The chain that carried the coroner’s report to mass consumption contains some interesting links. Zachreson’s LinkedIn profile states that he’s a senior accounting analyst for Sutter Health. And Snyder’s wife is dean of students at Windsor Middle School. Further evidence, perhaps, that the medical and educational establishments aren’t as unified as they sometimes appear to be.

Maldonado sounded a bit fatigued by the constant skepticism. In her role as pediatrician, she is adamant about the need for full disclosure regarding any adverse effects of vaccinations. But she’s as convinced as ever that these immunizations are the safest approach for children.

“We’re talking about over a billion doses administered around the world,” Maldonado said. “The surveillance data is extremely robust. I’ve never seen another vaccine scrutinized to this degree. And even with that scrutiny, these vaccines are withstanding any concerns about safety and effectiveness.”

Unfortunately for the doctor, it’s unlikely those words will be seen by as many people as the accusatory posts about a 15-year-old’s death.

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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