AKRON, Ohio — As is the case with most married couples, Heather and Jon McKenna occasionally snipe at each other. Sometimes they even enjoy it.
Heather got riled up the other night because she thought Jon, her husband of 13 years, was cleaning their coffeepot with vinegar, an odor she detests.
She signed onto her Facebook page and wrote, “I’m going to murder my stanky husband.”
Several of her 470 Facebook friends got a laugh.
“Hire a mechanic,” joked a guy named Steve.
“No, I like him,” responded a pal named Dale.
The next response, posted only six minutes after the first, came from Jon himself: “Thanks for having my back. Except you, Steve!”
A woman named Amy weighed in: “You don’t want to go to jail. Just stop washing his clothes and feeding him. LOL.”
“I think he does the cooking,” countered Dale.
Soon the conversation segued into the best methods for cleaning coffeepots.
But one reader wasn’t laughing.
One of Heather’s Facebook friends apparently thought she was serious. As a result, the McKennas got an unexpected visitor two days later.
At 2 o’clock on a Monday afternoon, a Portage County, Ohio, sheriff’s deputy knocked on the front door of their house in Randolph Township, Ohio. The deputy discovered Heather’s husband slumped in a chair with his eyes closed. But it wasn’t exactly a crime scene.
The husband, who had worked a midnight shift, was asleep in a chair — with their 17-month-old daughter asleep on his lap. The scene was more reminiscent of Norman Rockwell than Karla Faye Tucker.
When the deputy saw the man, she said, “Oh, is that Jon McKenna?”
Heather immediately thought Jon had done something wrong, because she knew she hadn’t.
When the deputy said, “Did you post something on Facebook that you were going to murder your husband?” Heather was stunned.
“Is that really why you’re here?” she said, incredulous.
The deputy told her a complaint had been filed and she was there to check it out. She asked Heather to pull up the page on her computer so the deputy could read it, and Heather quickly complied.
Both McKennas were floored by the visit — and still are.
“We’re known for being smart alecks,” Jon said a few days later, sitting across from his wife in their small house. “About 95 percent of what either one of us posts on Facebook has got to be taken with about five shakers full of salt.”
That is frequently the case on the social networking site, where people aren’t exactly under oath.
To anyone who knows the McKennas or even looked at the posts that followed her “threat,” believing a murder was imminent seems absurd.
But how was the sheriff supposed to know?
If you’re not one of Heather’s 470 Facebook friends, you can’t view her page. The sheriff’s office had no context.
Moreover, in the wake of the Chardon, Ohio, murders — the kid charged with killing three classmates made threats on Facebook — who could blame the authorities for wanting to be sure?
Portage County Sheriff David Doak sees nothing even remotely funny about the McKennas’ byplay.
He doesn’t know the McKennas, but they don’t know him, either, and weren’t aware he had spent the entire previous week on high alert after the Chardon shootings, blanketing the county’s schools with personnel (himself included) to try to keep the calm and sort out the inevitable copycat threats. A couple of those threats resulted in arrests.
“Any time we get a threat — whether it’s by telephone, via text, over the Internet, on Facebook — we’re certainly going to look into it,” Doak says.
The person who called authorities (Doak won’t release the name) did so two days after Heather’s posting, and a deputy was dispatched immediately.
“If (something) comes to our attention and we’re going to go spend time to chase information down — using our resources — those folks need to know that we don’t take that stuff humorously.”
The consequences, he says, could include criminal charges. “In today’s times, we just can’t put anything like that on ‘ignore.’ We will look into it.”
Meanwhile, Heather McKenna, 35, is peeved that one of her friends thinks so little of her that he or she could imagine Heather actually assassinating her 37-year-old husband.
But when you have 470 “friends,” not all of them are going to be close ones. Heather’s criterion for accepting a friend request is simply knowing who the person is. In some cases, they are folks she hasn’t seen since high school.
Such is the nature of the Facebook beast.
Long gone are the days we could stand in an airport and innocently joke about commandeering a plane. Merely uttering the word “bomb” or “hijack” is guaranteed to put you on a first-name basis with law enforcement.
Looks like certain things have become off-limits on social media sites as well.