Special Reports

Impact on Tacoma’s reputation uncertain

The first school shooting of 2007 occurred Tuesday when a bullet hit the car of a 17-year-old leaving the parking lot of Westover High School in Cumberland County, N.C.

Wednesday’s shooting in Tacoma, however, was “the first high-profile school shooting of 2007,” according to The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which by Wednesday afternoon was offering political comment on the incident.

Once again, Tacoma’s name was broadcast over television and radio – and printed in newspapers and on Web sites and blogs – by news agencies and opinion makers alike.

It appeared on Forbes.com and in the San Diego Union Tribune. Readers caught updates in Maryland and Peru. A photo of two Foss High School students made today’s Sydney Morning Herald. Reporters called for comment from as far as Ireland.

Tacoma’s name has re-entered the true-crime lexicon, as it did when it had a hometown serial killer, a local rifle used in a series of East Coast shootings, and a police chief who killed himself and his wife.

Will this latest incident have an effect on Tacoma’s reputation?

“Given that school shootings have occurred in communities of all sizes and types across America, the event may have lost its specificity,” said David Graybill, president and CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber.

“It’s more emblematic of a larger concern across the schools of America than it is an indictment of Tacoma.”

Graybill said he has not seen other cities suffer a deterioration of their “brand” following such tragic events.

Ruthie Reinert, executive director of the Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitor Bureau, said it would be difficult to quantify any negative effect.

“It’s hard to predict what the long-term impact will be,” she said.

But there could be an impact. A fight at Tacoma’s Fourth of July Freedom Fair celebration last year led to a letter from an out-of-town tourist, Reinert said.

“They said they felt unsafe as a visitor,” she said.

Both Graybill and Reinert emphasized that the first thoughts and concerns should be with the victim, his family, and students and staff at Foss High School.

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535