It may be time to show what a child looks like after being slaughtered


Around 45,000 flowers form a sprawling memorial on the National Mall during the March for Our Lives Demonstration on June 11, 2022. The memorial was commissioned by Gabby Giffords and is intended to symbolize the number of Americans who die annually from gun violence. Photo by: Dustan Heistand

WASHINGTON – Showing the body of a child killed in a school massacre like the one in Uvalde, Texas, would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.  But that was then.

“Couldn’t have imagined saying this years ago, but it’s time – with the permission of a surviving parent – to show what a slaughtered 7-year-old looks like,” tweeted David Boardman, former executive editor of The Seattle Times and dean of Temple University’s journalism school. “Maybe only then will we find the courage for more than thoughts and prayers.”

Boardman is one of many openly discussing using images of the massacred bodies of children to combat a public becoming increasingly desensitized to mass shootings such as those in Uvalde, Buffalo and Tulsa.

This year alone the United States has already recorded over 250 mass shootings and it isn’t even July 1. Some experts contend the coverage of mass shootings has lulled the public into a post-massacre cycle that leaves many Americans detached from the violence.

The Department of Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database has counted 2,032 school shooting incidents since 1970. Nearly half of those school shooting incidents have occurred in the past 10 years.

Washington pundits have opined this week that Republicans have offered “thoughts and prayers,” while Democrats have pushed gun-reform legislation unlikely to pass the 50-50 senate where 60 votes are required for bills to overcome a filibuster, which remains intact due to those same Democrats.

Boardman believes it’s time to “graphically show the public and, by extension, the members of the United States Senate, what this sort of devastation looks like.”

High-velocity rounds like those used by the shooter in Buffalo, Uvalde and Tulsa continue to be the primary choice of mass shootings. A gunshot wound has the potential to be fatal regardless of the ammunition used, but high-velocity ammunition is designed to maximize damage.

“When that bullet hits, when that projectile enters the body, it typically does so incredibly fast,” said Dr. Howard Mell, an emergency physician.

“We’re talking above the speed of sound, and as it hits, it’s almost like a boat giving off a wake. If you take a boat that is traveling at a slow speed the wake is contained behind it. It doesn’t really spread out the water much.  But if you take a cigarette boat that is flying, the wake spreads out. It’s huge” said Mell, a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“The same kind of thing is going to be true of a high-velocity projectile. When you get this thing to go in, not only does it go in, but it goes in with such force that it creates a wound channel that is much bigger than the hole itself. It will actually liquefy tissue merely off the force wave. It creates this kind of channel of force,” he said.

Since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, 169 children and teachers have died in mass shootings at U.S. schools.  A mass shooting is an indiscriminate rampage in a public place resulting in four or more victims being wounded or killed by the attacker.

“In 1955, Emmett Till’s mother insisted that the casket of her 14-year-old son be open and publicly displayed so that America could see the outrageous cruelty of what white racists in the South were doing to Black men,” said Boardman in an interview with Vanity Fair. “Jet magazine took a picture of that, that picture circulated around the country and the world, and it marked a real change in the Civil Rights Movement. I think we’re at that point now.”

It is the same kind of image that caused the world to recoil in horror when they saw the April 19, 1995, photo of Oklahoma City firefighter Chris Fields cradling a lifeless one-year-old Baylee Almon moments after the Oklahoma City bombing. It was widely circulated and effectively brought the horror of the bombing to the attention of Congress and the public. Congress passed HR 4159, or “Baylee’s Law,” in 2000, to provide additional safety measures for childcare facilities located in federal buildings.

“That’s a great example of precisely what I’m advocating,” said Boardman when asked about the Baylee Almon image. “There are moments in history when the system needs a jolt, when problems have become so insidious that the public has largely become numb to them. The right visual image can do that in a unique and powerful way.”

A poll by Amber Integrated of Oklahoma voters shows that increased gun control is emerging as the largest issue among independents, and the second most important for Democrats.  Even among the state’s Republicans increased gun control is gaining traction, according to the poll released by the Oklahoma City polling firm this week.

Earlier this week a bipartisan group of Senators unveiled an agreement on principle for gun reform legislation. The pact includes the encouragement to create and implement “red-flag” laws, mental health and telehealth investment, closing the boyfriend loophole, an increased review process for buyers under 21, clarification on the definition of a federally licensed firearm distributor, and school security resources.

Both Sen. James Lankford (R, Oklahoma City), who has an N.R.A. “A” rating, and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R, Tulsa), who has an N.R.A. “A+” rating, however, declined to answer when asked if they would support the bi-partisan gun reform legislation proposed by senate negotiators.


Gaylord News is a Washington-based  reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. For more stories by Gaylord News go to