Las Vegas shooting: Photographer who captured iconic images of chaos speaks out

‘When I saw the image of the woman lying on the ground covered in blood... I realised people were dying’

Will Worley
Wednesday 04 October 2017 18:35
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On a night of chaos and confusion, pictures from the scene of the Las Vegas shooting emerged within minutes of the start of the shooting. That’s because photographer David Becker grabbed his camera and went to work immediately.

His photos brought news readers to the heart of the chaos, and were beamed around the world, quickly recognised as some of the most powerful images from America’s deadliest mass shooting.

Mr Becker, who works for Getty Images, has given his account of the evening’s tragic events. The evening began on a normal job, as he documented the Jason Aldean concert.

“After capturing photographs of the final act of the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, I headed back to the media tent to start filing my photographs,” Mr Becker said.

“After about 5-10 minutes I heard very loud popping sounds and I went outside to see what was happening and a security guy said it was just “fire crackers”, so I went back to work. The second time I heard the popping sounds somebody said to me “it was just speakers or sound equipment” and again, I went back into the media tent and continued to work. Then the noises went again and that was when the crowd started to flee.”

Despite the automatic gunfire raining down on the crowd of thousands of fleeing music fans, Mr Becker believed the spectators were panicking at the sound of malfunctioning audio equipment. He left the media tent and stood on a table and began to shoot photos.

Music fans run for cover (David Becker/Getty)

He said: “It was so dark I couldn’t really see what was happening, there were a lot of people crying, speaking on cell phones and ducking for cover. As the crowd thinned out I was able to go a little closer to try and see what was going on and take some more pictures, and I’m still thinking to myself, ‘it’s just the speakers, there is nothing going on.’”

Mr Becker described how he struggled to take good photographs in the chaotic and poorly lit conditions.

People carry a person at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after shots were fired

“There were groups of people helping each other everywhere and a real sense of people running for cover,” he said.

“People were fleeing, they were panicking. The gun fire was sporadic, it would stop and then more shots, then a lull and then more shots.

“I could hear people yelling at them to shut off the lights, to be quiet. People were cowering, they were very fearful for their lives. A woman tripped right in front of me, a man shielded a woman with his body before I saw them both get up and run away, a man in a wheelchair was helped to an exit.

A man in a wheelchair is taken away from the festival after gun fire was heard

“I was trying to capture anything that was moving and that had good lighting. That was critical, it was so dark and there was limited lighting it was really hard to get a sense of what was happening.

“At this stage I still just thought it was a speaker popping, so I was trying to capture people’s emotions and a sense of the panic that was around me.”

By the time the bullets from Stephen Paddock’s guns stopped, he had killed 59 people, along with himself, and injured hundreds more. Even as the shooting continued, Mr Becker still did not appreciate the severity of the situation until he reviewed the photos he had just taken back in the media tent.

People scramble for shelter at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after gun fire was heard (David Becker/Getty)

“I started looking at my photographs and what I was seeing was just unbelievable,” he said. “It had been so dark outside I couldn’t see the details, I just saw a lot of people laying on the ground thinking they were playing possum, but now I could see people covered in blood and I thought, this is real.”

“When I saw the image of the woman lying on the ground covered in blood, that was when the impact of what I was experiencing hit; when I realised people were dying,” he added.

People run for cover at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival (David Becker/Getty)

Back in the tent, a colleague told Mr Becker the police had issued a “code red” alert and set up a perimeter. The photographer continued to work on editing and sending off the photographs. Shortly after, he was evacuated but continued to work, covering the aftermath of the atrocity.

Reflecting on the night’s events, Mr Becker said it was “hard to comprehend” what he witnessed but that he acted on instinct.

He said: “I was on autopilot, just doing my job capturing what was happening, which I think is important. Impactful images like these tell a story, they move people to think twice about doing anything like this, they move governments to change policies to prevent horrific acts like these happening again.

“I’ve been doing this work for many years and it is instinct to photograph first and ask questions later. It probably seems irrational to just walk out and take pictures of people running for cover, but that is second nature for a photojournalist.”

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