An Important Question is Raised as Social Media Loses Trey Pennington to Suicide

trey pennington social media

The Sunday of Labor Day weekend was a very sad day for the social media community. We lost one of our All-Stars and that raises the question; ” Just how real are online relationships created through social media?”

According to news sources, on Sunday morning, around 11 am, Labor Day weekend, Greenville, S.C. Police received a call that there was a man in possession of a gun at the Second Presbyterian Church on River Street. Police found social media personality, Trey Pennington, in the church’s parking lot. Police repeatedly asked him to put the gun down but Trey  turned the gun on himself and fired a single shot, committing suicide. He was 46 years of age.

Trey Pennington was a Greenville, South Carolina businessman, author, international speaker and a thought leader in social media. He created such an appeal because of his genuine desire to help people.

One of the people he most admired was Zig Ziglar. Last year he shared the stage with Zig and a highlight of his life was conducting an interview with his mentor. Trey’s favorite Ziglar quote was also a summation of his attitude when it came to helping others:

“You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” 

Ironically, I never met Trey in person but he was indeed my friend. 

My first connection with Trey came when he asked to conduct an interview for his Blog Talk Radio program, Social Media Professor.

Later, he was a huge help when I was planning my first business trip to London. He co-founded Like Minds, a social media conference that launched in England. He traveled there on many occasions and was kind enough to share his knowledge of the area and prepared a detailed list of resources and contacts for my trip. He was always glad to be of help, never expecting anything in return.

Trey called me several times. I knew what his personal struggles were. We talked about his ongoing battle with depression and how he was trying to cope. I tried my best to instill hope. Before our conversation ended, he wanted to know if there was anything he could do for me. Typical of Trey.

I received my last correspondence from Trey at 8:46 on Friday evening.  He let me know in his final note that he was still struggling, but was hopeful for the future. Traveling on Sunday, I didn’t learn of his suicide until later that evening. I was stunned to say the least. I immediately checked out Trey’s Twitter account and found this:

Trey posted that message at 10:21 a.m. on Sunday, just minutes before ending his life. Trey had a Twitter following of over 111,000 people, but no one could help him at his greatest time of need.

When I checked Trey’s Facebook page, I saw where he had posted more than  70 photos before taking his own life. Photos of happier times spent with his family and friends. He shared some of his most treasured  memories with us.

Trey’s suicide raises many questions. Among them, just how real are the relationships created through social media?

I know personally that Trey drew strength from his social media community.  Many responded with support and expressions of genuine affection for him. Willing to do whatever they could to be of help. Just as did his family, friends and church community.

At Trey’s memorial service, his pastor shared that Trey’s problems weren’t from lack of support or that people were not aware that he was having difficulties. Trey reached out and many of us were aware and there for him, but in the end, powerless to help him.

We probably won’t ever know what was going through Trey’s mind on that Sunday morning for him to commit the ultimate act of letting go of life. But I think that we know that the many relationships that he established through social media are real. He had friends throughout the world that he most likely wouldn’t have made had it not been for social media. We are all grieving for a friend that we lost, someone special, that always showed that he cared.

My heart goes out to Trey’s family. He leaves behind a wife, six wonderful kids, two grandchildren, mother and brother.  I know they will draw strength from the rich memories Trey leaves with them.

My hope, in the coming days and weeks is that his family will be able to draw real strength and support from his online family of friends. 

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Here are some additional special tributes to Trey:

About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.


  1. Erick Pennington says:

    Michael, thank you for this post, your memory of Trey, the compelling question you raised and the collection of tributes you provided. I still remain at a loss for many words, so I’ll just say again…thank you. I will indeed draw strength and support from it.

  2. Erick,

    You and your family remain in my thoughts and prayers. Please let me know if there’s anything beyond this that I can do.

  3. Michael,

    This was a very thoughtful and touching tribute to a friend and colleague. I was unaware this had occurred but feel fortunate to have seen your post and to have learned more about Trey – both is triumphs and struggles. Thank you for posting this.

    Leah Barrett

  4. Thank you Leah.

  5. This is sad. I think we all know that relationships created through social media aren’t real. They contribute to the further isolation of people in our society.


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