FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Few Americans outside of law enforcement and government have ever seen the most disturbing videos or photos of the nation’s worst mass shootings — in most states such evidence is shown only at trial, and most such killers die during or immediately after their attacks. They never make it to court.

That’s what it did criminal trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz for his murder in 2018 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland unusually.

As the worst US mass shooting to go to court, the surveillance footage captured during his attack and on crime scene photos and autopsy which show its horrific effects are viewed by jurors on screened video screens and shown to a small group of journalists after each day’s court hearing. But they are not shown to the gallery where parents and spouses sit, or to the general public watching on television.

Some online believe that needs to change — that in order to have an informed debate about gun violence, the public needs to see mass shooters like Cruz, often with high-velocity bullets fired from AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and similar weapons.

Others disagree. They say the public display of such videos and photos would add to the damage victims’ families are already suffering and could trick some who are mentally ill into carrying out their own mass shooting. They believe that such evidence should remain sealed.

Liz Dunning, vice president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, doesn’t believe the release of such videos and photos would have the political impact some believe. Sociological studies show that most Americans now support stricter background checks for gun buyers and bans or restrictions on AR-15s and similar weapons, said Dunning, whose mother was killed by a gunman.

“The problem is not public perception,” Dunning said. “We must demand more from the powerful.”

Because most of the worst mass shooters in the U.S. were killed by themselves or the police during or immediately after their attack, it is rare for anyone outside the government to see such surveillance video or police and autopsy photos. The public saw no such evidence after Shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, Orlando in 2016, Sandy Hook in 2012, Virginia Tech in 2007 and other.

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

Since the trial began on July 18everyone in the courtroom and watching on television saw and heard heartbreaking testimonies from teachers and students who have seen others die. They heard the gunshots and screams as jurors watched cellphone videos.

But when graphic videos and photos are presented, they are not displayed. Usually, they only hear medical examiners and police officers give callous descriptions of what the jury sees.

Then, at the end of each day, a group of reporters review the photos and videos, but are only allowed to write descriptions. This was a compromise as some parents feared that pictures of their dead children would be published online and did not want access to the media.

Miami media attorney Thomas Jullin said in pre-internet Florida, any photos or other evidence presented at trial could be seen and copied by anyone. The newspapers didn’t print the most gruesome pictures, so no one cared.

But in the mid-1990s, when the Internet was booming, Danny Rowling was on trial for the death penalty in the serial murders of four University of Florida students and a community college student. The families of the victims claim that the release of crime scene photos will cause them emotional harm. The judge ruled that anyone can view the photos, but no one can copy them. Such compromises have since become standard in Florida’s high-profile murder trials.

The surveillance video of the Stoneman Douglas shooting is silent. It shows Cruz methodically moving from floor to floor in a three-story classroom, shooting down hallways and into classrooms. Victims fall. Cruz often stops and shoots them again before continuing.

Crime scene photos show the dead where they fell, sometimes on top of each other or next to each other, often in contorted shapes. Blood and sometimes brain matter are splattered on the floors and walls.

Autopsy photos show the damage done by Cruz and his bullets. Some victims have massive head wounds. One student’s elbow was blown off, another’s shoulder was shattered. Another had most of her forearm torn off.

Yet despite their gruesomeness, Columbia University journalism professor Bruce Shapiro says most autopsy and crime scene photos won’t have a lasting public impact because they lack context.

Photos and videos that have a strong effect on public opinion tell a story, said Shapiro, who heads the university’s think tank on how journalists should cover violence.

The photos of To Emmett Till a battered body lying in its coffin after the black teenager was tortured and killed by white supremacists in Mississippi in 1955. Mary Ann Vecchio screams over the body of Kent State student Jeffrey Miller after he was shot by National Guard troops in 1970. Vietnamese child Phan Thi Kim Phuc runs naked after being burned by a napalm bomb in 1972. The video of police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck until he dies in 2020.

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

And even if the graphic photos and videos were published, most major newspapers, TV stations and TV stations would be hesitant to use them. Their editors weigh whether the public benefit of viewing an image outweighs any beneficial interest—and usually pass.

This will leave most to only the most obscene websites. They would also become fodder for potential mass shooters, who often research past killers. Cruz did it; testimony shows he spent the seven months before the attack doing hundreds of computer searches to carry out massacres.

“Images of carnage will become part of their dark fantasy life,” Shapiro said.

https://www.wkrg.com/national/parkland-trial-a-rare-curtailed-look-at-mass-shooting-gore/

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