Daniel Ruth: Angry words, Facebook and a handgun add up to a recipe for violence

Brian Sebring, left, is accused of shooting and wounding Alex Stephens, right, after a political dispute on Facebook. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
Times Columnist Dan Ruth. [Times file]
Published August 15, 2018
Updated August 14, 2018

Today’s lesson will address: How to make an imbecile cocktail. Ingredients: One part Facebook. One part firearm. And one heaping dash of stupid. Mix well. Serve. Call your lawyer.

It might well be a toss up as to what was the most dangerous weapon here. The gun? Or the Facebook account?

A few days ago, thanks to an inane, testy, online exchange between two oafs, one party wound up in the emergency room with gunshot wounds to his buttocks and leg and the other party now finds himself facing felony charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and carrying a concealed weapon.

PREVIOUS: ‘I went off the deep end,’ says shooter in South Tampa Facebook feud

Dangerous place, the mean cyber streets of South Tampa.

Our saga of insanity began when Brian Sebring got into an online back and forth with Alex Stephens over Facebook postings regarding felon voting rights.

Stephens, who happens to be a convicted felon, wrote on Facebook that even though he has a criminal record, he still believed he had a right to express a political opinion. And he does.


Sebring, however, had a different view, writing in response to Stephens: "If you want to voice your opinion, don’t do criminal activity, don’t get caught, be a productive member of society." Oh, sigh, if only Sebring had followed his own advice.

Alas, Stephens took umbrage over Sebring’s umbrage and invited Sebring to come on over to his house for a fight. And, amazingly, Sebring took Stephens up on his gracious offer. We pause here for a forehead slap.

Prior to his visit to the Stephens abode, Sebring sent a message to his host bragging how he was going to unload "... a full 5.56 magazine into your head," which one might think would be enough to rescind the invitation.

Nevertheless, armed with a handgun and an AR-15 assault rifle, Sebring showed up at the Stephens household, where he thereupon proceeded to shoot Stephens twice.

We pause here again to remind everyone this was all over a simple, dreary Facebook posting.

It is only through the grace of God perhaps, or more likely his horrible aim, that the 44-year-old (yes, 44!) Sebring, who is married with children, isn’t facing first-degree murder charges simply because he got into an online tiff over — once again — a Facebook posting.


Irony abounds, too. Given the charges against him, it is more than probable Sebring will lose his voting rights, although that’s the least of his problems.

During a meeting with a gaggle of reporters, a tearful Sebring said he simply "... snapped and let primal rage take over." Gee, do you think?

You do have to wonder what we have become.

In Pinellas County, a man is shot and killed over a dispute concerning a handicapped parking space. In Pasco County, a man was shot and killed in a movie theater over a patron text-messaging his daughter’s baby-sitter.

And more recently, a Pasco County woman and her passenger were shot by an enraged motorist after she simply flickered her headlights to remind the other driver his own headlights were off. No good deed ...

Whatever happened to a few well chosen, lovingly crafted four-letter words exchanged in the heat of emotion to vent one’s feelings? Too old school?


We all know by now how easy it is obtain a weapon in our society. Functioning pulse rate? You’re good to go.

But we also know social media outlets like Facebook, while they certainly may have their virtues, also serve to depersonalize us. It is too easy to log-on to a service like Facebook and attack one another in the obscurity of the ether.

Viewed by way of a screen and a keyboard, Alex Stephens was an abstraction. And eventually he became a target merely because Brian Sebring didn’t much care for what Stephens had to say.

This incident occurred in South Tampa. But in the haziness of the internet, it is everywhere USA.

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