Parkland Trials A Rare, Curved Look at Mass Shooting Gore

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Few Americans outside law enforcement and government watch the most graphic videos or photos from the nation’s worst mass shootings ever – In most states, such evidence is only displayed at trial and most such killers die or die immediately. after their attacks. They never make it to court.

This has made the penalty trial unusual for Nicolas Cruz, a Florida school shooter for killing 17 people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.

As the worst American mass shooting to reach trial, surveillance videos taken during his attack and crime scene and autopsy that showed its horrific consequences are being watched on jury-guarded video screens and, each day. After the court session, a small group of journalists is shown. But they are not shown in the gallery, where parents and spouses sit, or to the general public watching on TV.

Some online believe that should change—that in order to have an informed debate on gun violence, the public should look to genocidal mass shooters like Cruz Cause, often high-powered by AR-15 semiautomatic rifles and similar weapons. With velocity bullets.

Others disagree. They say that public exposure of such videos and photographs will add to the already suffering families of the victims and may attract some mentally disturbed people to their mass shootings. He believes that such evidence should remain sealed.

Liz Dunning, the vice president of the Brady Center to Stop Gun Violence, believes the release of such videos and photos would have political ramifications for some. Polls show that most Americans already support strong background checks for gun buyers and bans or sanctions on the AR-15 and similar weapons, said Dunning, whose mother was murdered by a gunman.

“Public perception is not the issue,” Dunning said. “We must ask the more powerful.”

Since the worst American mass shooters were killed by themselves or the police during or shortly after their attack, it is rare for anyone outside the government to see surveillance videos or police and autopsy photos like this. The public did not see such evidence after the Las Vegas shootings in 2017, Orlando in 2016, Sandy Hook in 2012, Virginia Tech in 2007 and others.

But Cruz, 23, fled after his shooting and was arrested an hour later. He pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder – his trial is only to determine whether he has been sentenced to death or life without parole. Videos and photographs are part of the prosecution’s case.

Ever since the trial began on July 18, everyone watching in the courtroom and on TV has seen and heard the heart-wrenching testimony of teachers and students who saw others die. When jurors watched cellphone videos, they heard gunshots and screams.

But when graphic videos and photos are presented, they are not shown. Typically, they only listen to medical examiners and police officers give impassioned descriptions of what the jury is seeing.

Then at the end of each day, a group of journalists review the photos and videos, but they are only allowed to write the description. It was a compromise because some parents feared that photos of their dead children would be posted online and wanted no media access.

Any photo or other evidence presented at trial can be viewed and copied by anyone, Miami media attorney Thomas Julin told the Internet in Florida before. The newspapers didn’t print the most gruesome pictures, so no one cared.

But as the Internet boomed in the mid-1990s, Danny Rowling faced the death penalty for the serial killings of four University of Florida students and a community college student. The victims’ families argued that publishing photos of the crime scene would cause emotional harm to them. The judge ruled that anyone could see the photos, but no one could copy them. Such agreements have since become standard in Florida’s high-profile murder trials.

Surveillance video of the Stoneman Douglas shooting is silent. It shows Cruise moving systematically from floor to floor in a three-story classroom building, shooting hallways and classrooms. Victims fall. Cruz often stops and shoots them again before proceeding.

Crime scene photos show the dead where they fell, sometimes on top of or next to each other, often in opposite sizes. Blood and sometimes brain matter are scattered on the floor and walls.

Autopsy photos show the damage done to Cruz and his bullets. Some of the victims have major wounds on the head. One student’s elbow was torn, the other had an open shoulder. Another had most of his hand amputated.

Yet, despite their gruesomeness, Columbia University journalism professor Bruce Shapiro says most autopsies and crime scene photographs will not have a lasting public impact because they do not have context.

On how journalists should cover violence, Shapiro, who runs the university’s think tank, said the photos and videos that make a strong impact on public opinion tell a story.

After the black teenager was tortured and killed by Mississippi white supremacists in 1955, photographs of Emmett Till’s battered body lay in her coffin. Mary Ann Vecchio screaming at the body of Kent State student Jeffrey Miller was shot by National Guard soldiers in 1970. Vietnamese child Phan Thi Kim Phuc running naked after being burned by a napalm bomb in 1972. Video of police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck until he dies in 2020.

“They work not only because they’re graphic, but because they’re powerful, evocative images,” Shapiro said.

And even if graphic photographs and videos were released, most major newspapers, wire services and television stations would hesitate to use them. Their editors weigh whether the public benefit of viewing an image outweighs any real interest—and they usually pass.

This will leave most only for the most well-functioning websites. They will also become fodder for potential mass shooters, who often research past killers. Cruz did; Testimony shows that he spent seven months prior to his attack and hundreds of computer searches about committing the murder.

“Images of genocide will become part of his dark fantasy life,” Shapiro said.

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