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Wendy Bell creates another social media storm with hashtag

Tom Fontaine
| Tuesday, April 5, 2016, 2:36 p.m.
Wendy Bell, former WTAE news anchor
WTAE
Wendy Bell, former WTAE news anchor

Former WTAE-TV anchor Wendy Bell is stirring up controversy on social media again.

Bell, who was fired last week over a controversial post that she made on her WTAE Facebook page, posted on Twitter this weekend that she launched a new public Facebook page . She ended the tweet with #PittsburghStrong.

The hashtag ignited a firestorm around Bell, who did not return a call from the Tribune-Review.

“You have now become the thing they accused you of being. You are now the Queen of Self-Centered,” popular local blogger Virginia Montanez wrote in a post that quickly made the rounds Monday on local Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Some Pittsburghers deemed the hashtag insensitive because Monday marked a grim anniversary that many felt was more deserving of it: on April 4, 2009, a gunman shot and killed Pittsburgh police officers Eric G. Kelly, Stephen J. Mayhle and Paul J. Sciullo II when they responded to a domestic dispute in Stanton Heights.

People on social media used similar hashtags after tragic events locally (#FRStrong following the April 2014 stabbings at Franklin Regional High School) and elsewhere (#BostonStrong following the April 2013 marathon bombings and #ParisStrong after the November terror attacks). #PittsburghStrong accompanied tweets Sunday about Pitt running back James Conner, who is undergoing treatment for cancer and who threw out the first pitch at the Pirates' home opener.

About 100 people replied directly to Bell's tweet. Their replies were overwhelmingly negative.

Then the hashtag became linked to a stream of ironic quotes about people dealing with ordeals such as walking in the rain to get cupcakes or having their parking chair moved.

WTAE fired Bell, who is white, after she speculated in a March 21 Facebook message about the race, background and family histories of the gunmen who killed five adults and an unborn child last month in Wilkinsburg.

In the same post, she praised the work of a young black man who was working as a busboy at a South Side restaurant where her family ate recently, saying, “He's going to Make It.”

She later apologized for the post.

The response hasn't been all negative for Bell, an award-winning anchor who spent 18 years at WTAE.

Bell's new Facebook page had more than 52,000 likes as of Tuesday afternoon, and it was filled with thousands of supportive comments.

“I can't thank the hundreds of thousands of you who have reached out with support. We're going to do some really cool stuff here — and I can't wait for you to join the adventure,” Bell wrote on her Facebook page.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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