“Everyone responsible for this should feel deeply ashamed,” said independent journalist Allison Kilkenny in reaction to bizarre episode
Disbelief and immediate criticism followed as a bizarre situation unfolded on live television Friday afternoon when numerous journalists, unobstructed by police or other agencies, streamed into the home of the two people who carried out Wednesday’s mass murder of fourteen people in San Bernadino, California.
The apartment of Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik—both of whom were killed in a shootout with police on Wednesday and subsequently identified as the perpetrators of the earlier mass shooting—has been a key focus of the investigation by law enforcement agencies who have been trying to piece together the planning and motivations behind the attack as well as details about the couple’s lives.
However, with the residence apparently left unguarded by law enforcement, a large contingent of journalists, including camera operators sending live footage to major outlets like CNN and MSNBC, entered the apartment and began rifling through personal belongings and rummaging through what many observers assume could be potentially valuable evidence in a high-profile criminal investigation.
Early reports indicated that it was the landlord who gave journalists access to the home, though the man identified as the landlord told the local CBS affiliate that he didn’t let them in, but that they “rushed in.” Footage from the scene shows at least one unidentified individual removing plywood from the front door with a crowbar.
The FBI, which has now taken over the investigation, answered questions about the incident by stating the scene had been fully processed and that authority over the property was, in fact, turned back to the landlord.
The following is a portion of what MSNBC aired lived:
The response on social media to what unfolded was nearly immediate, with many criticizing outlets for showing live shots of personal objects, including photos of children.
As the story broke, Politico reported:
Harry Houck, CNN law enforcement analyst, said on air, “Usually in an instance like this, if crime scene goes in and does the work and comes out, you will keep that scene locked up, and with the sign on board saying that you cannot come in until the police release it. The fact is, maybe they did not do that here. I am I will tell you, I’m so shocked I cannot believe it. This is detective 101 for crying out loud. And now we have what looks like dozens of people in there totally destroying a crime scene, which is still vital in this investigation.”
The landlord, Doyle Miller, told CNN, “This is unreal. And I need to assess the damage. It’s a lot worse than what I thought.”
Despite the FBI’s subsequent announcement that the scene had been clear, other agencies seemed gobsmacked that journalists had been able to wander through the house and tamper with personal property as well as possible evidence. When contacted by the online news outlet Grasswire, Deputy Olivia Bozek, a spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, said, “I don’t know what’s going on. That is not a cleared crime scene. There’s still an active investigation going on.”
Meanwhile, outside expert observers had a hard time believing that house should have been made available to either the owner, journalists, or the general public. The New York Daily News described how “security consultants on cable news watched the live feed in horror, slamming the moment as the destruction and contamination of a major crime scene. One even said that allowing the media to defile the scene he most ‘shocking screwup in police history’ and could not understand why cops on any level would have allowed such a thing to happen.”