NEWS REPORT: The Before, During and After of Mass Shootings Involving AR-15s

Photo by Tim Mudd on Unsplash

By Julie McCaffrey

WASHINGTON, DC – A rare and graphic news report detailing accounts of mass shootings involving AR-15s—featuring devastating images, some seen for the first time by the public, depicting the aftermath of mass shootings—was produced this past week by the Washington Post, through interviews with survivors and law enforcement.

The Washington Post detailed its reasoning and methods for publishing the report, noting, “Our decision to publish this story came after careful and extensive deliberation among the reporters and editors who worked on it, as well as senior leaders in our newsroom.

“As we prepared to publish this story in recent days, we sought to be sensitive to the people most directly affected — providing advance notice to many families of victims, their representatives and community leaders so they could choose to avoid the coverage if they preferred,” The Post added.

The Washington Post wrote it came to the conclusion “we believe that publishing these images gives the public a new vantage point into the pattern of AR-15 mass killings in the United States.”

The article, titled “Terror on Repeat,” opens with a content warning, and is then followed by several images of concertgoers running, a church riddled with bullet holes, and body bags lining the hall of an elementary school.

The article covers 11 mass killings from 2012 to 2023, all of which employed AR-15s. 

The Washington Post split the article into three parts, each describing a different stage in a mass shooting. The first part, titled “Shots are Fired,” includes survivor accounts of the beginning of a mass shooting.

Many of the accounts detail the confusion that comes before the horrific realization of the situation at hand. Abbey Clements, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said, “I heard what sounded like metal chairs falling, and I figured that was for the holiday program or something.”

Similarly, David Colbath, a church congregant at the Sutherland Springs church shooting, said to The Post, “I turned around and… looked at the back doors, just trying to get my bearings and figure out, is this some kids throwing firecrackers?”

Individuals interviewed by the Post also described their emotions and pain during the shootings.

“To be able to cope with being in a position where I couldn’t do anything, I did the most useful thing that I can think of: I was counting rounds and reloads,” stated Morgan Workman, a church congregant at the Sutherland Springs church shooting.

The second section, “The Attack Unfolds,” details what occurs during a mass shooting.

In this section, The Post published a group of photos previously unseen by the public of Robb Elementary School classrooms in Uvalde, Texas. These photos show the harrowing and devastating reality of a school shooting.

The narrative from survivors continues, with Heather Brown Sallan, a vendor at a Las Vegas shooting, stating, “I remember when we ran out and there was the police. … The look on his face, the terror on his face. He had people under his car. In his car. And I remember him just screaming: ‘Run for your f—ing lives. Do not stop.’ … I remember my mouth being bone dry and my lungs were burning and I was so physically uncomfortable and I was so thirsty and I couldn’t stop. I just kept running and running and running.”

The Post’s third and final part, titled “Devastation,” describes the end of mass shootings. First responders, police, and coroners gave their accounts of what they witnessed.

“It looked like a bomb went off in there,” said Rusty Duncan, a volunteer firefighter who responded to the Sutherland Springs shooting.

The caption of an image of the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, reads, “Investigators said they ran out of evidence markers and used business cards instead.”

Euladli Diaz, justice of the peace and coroner, described the scene at Robb Elementary School, telling The Post, “We were standing there looking at the scene and the phones kept ringing and ringing and ringing in the backpacks and on the desks of the parents calling their children. … They kept calling and calling and calling.”

Readers flooded the comment section of the newspaper, many praising the Washington Post for displaying the reality of mass shootings with such candor.

Terrible to see. Impossible to ignore. Respectfully presented– if anything like this can be, WaPo did. This is what journalism is about,” one reader commented. 

Another added, “A masterwork of American journalism… This sobering gift of cognizance should be delivered to every front porch and digital inbox in America, marked ‘Required Reading,’ days before the first Tuesday of every November.”

However, the article was not received well by all. Some family members of those killed in the Robb Elementary shooting took to X to voice their disapproval. 

Kimberly Garcia, who lost her daughter in that shooting, tweeted, “If it’s not one thing it’s another. It’s ridiculous that these people can’t seem to let our loved ones rest in peace. I’m so heartbroken.”

Some parents, such as Brett Cross, see the article as a warning to America. He tweeted, “With nothing but love and respect to every family out there, from anybody who lost a loved one at our shooting, to the others displayed in this article, I disagree with not showing the public. I disagree with the public turning a blind eye to the reality that is America.”

“I view these as a warning. A warning to our nation that if we do not stand together, put our foot down and demand our government to do something, then it will be your loved one’s body in that bag. Your loved one’s blood smeared from being dragged out. Your loved ones’ funerals.”

In an interview with Tom Jones of Poynter, Sally Buzbee, an executive editor of the Washington Post, stated that “news organizations rarely publish extremely graphic content around these things. 

“And we just felt that there was a lack of understanding of what actually happens in these shootings. We’re really just trying to say what the destructive power is and what these (weapons) actually do. I think our main hope is people just get a more factual, realistic view of what happens in these highly destructive mass shootings.”

According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of Nov. 17, there have been 602 mass shootings in 2023. Recognizing that guns—specifically assault weapons such as the AR-15—can be used as instruments of destruction, Bill S. 25 was introduced to Congress at the beginning of this year. 

S. 25 seeks to regulate assault weapons and has the support of President Biden. 

Bill Track 50 states that “as of October 2023, 10 states have active assault rifle bans.” The 10 states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and most recently, Washington. 

About The Author

Julie is a third year at UC Davis majoring in Communications and Psychology with a minor in Philosophy. She hopes to advocate for women's reproductive rights and make the justice system fairer for sexual assault survivors.

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