We pick up our story last night, just shy of midnight East Coast time, and approximately 9:00 p.m. in California. News crews are staking out the Tarzana home of former 7th Heaven actor Stephen Collins, who has been accused of child molestation after disturbing recordings his wife made during a therapy session were published by TMZ. A loud bang is heard from inside or around the home, prompting reports to be filed with the police of “a possible gunshot.”
Enter former Baywatch actress, and Tarzana resident, Donna D’Errico:
That’s right. The suicide of an embattled actor and accused sexual predator was first reported by Donna D’Errico, who went on to say “That’s all I know. The police have the street cordoned off and aren’t even letting residents in.”
As will happen when a former Baywatch actress breaks important national crime news on social media, things got a little crazy. Her first tweet picked up over 1500 retweets — in addition to hundreds more from people who manually retweeted it after adding commentary like “WHAT?” or some other brand of shock and/or comedy — and set off a storm of speculation on Twitter. This brings us to Donna D’Errico’s next tweet.
See, here’s the thing — actually, two things:
- Stephen Collins did not actually shoot himself last night. In fact, he wasn’t even home at the time. The LAPD entered the home to investigate the bang and found … nothing. It was a false alarm, as Donna D’Errico hoped.
- I do indeed enjoy the journalistic practice of breaking a story, watching all hell break loose, then announcing that it’s bedtime before it’s been resolved. Pulitzer worthy, in my opinion.
Once it became clear that her initial information was incorrect, however, D’Errico took back to Twitter to issue an apology, which I am posting along with a reply from a member of the LAPD, because I think it sums things up nicely.
So there you have it. At least Donna D’Errico promptly apologized for relying on faulty sources, which is more than you can say for TMZ during some of its more spectacular swings-and-misses. So kudos for that, I guess.
But anyway, let’s make one last thing clear in closing: The underlying issues here, child molestation and suicide, are obviously very serious. The point of this is not to make light of them. The point is to document for posterity that the world was finding out about a potentially huge true crime story in real time via the Twitter account of the former host of Battlebots. The Internet, man.