The photographer who took a picture of Wisconsin high school boys giving what appears to be a Nazi salute has said he only asked the students to wave goodbye to their parents.
Pete Gust said the pre-junior prom photo at Baraboo High School, which has been shared widely on social media, was innocent.
"The last picture that I shot, I said, ‘All right boys, you’re on the steps … give me a high sign, a wave that you’re saying goodbye to your parents',” he told local news outlet Madison 365. “And I called it high five, ‘Give me a high five.’ … And so I stuck my hand up, and I said, ‘this is what I want'.”
The resultant photo shows dozens of teenagers with their right arms extended up and outwards on the steps of the Sauk county courthouse, in the town of Baraboo.
Mr Gust has removed the photo from his website, Wheel Memories, where it had been posted since May, and wrote: "To anyone that was hurt I sincerely apologise."
"It was waving goodbye to their parents (and) having a good time," he said. "High five. There was nothing that diminished the quality of anyone’s life. There was nothing that diminished anyone’s stature in society, there was nothing that was intended to point a finger at anyone in their class who may have some kind of difference. There was none of that.”
The image of the teenagers performing the apparent salute first surfaced on Twitter after it was shared by an account named “Welcome to Baraboo”. The post – now deleted – was captioned: “We even got the black kid to throw it up.”
A former student who graduated in 2016 told The Independent the Twitter account which posted the image was used to satirise the school and traditionally controlled by one or two senior students – including by him in his final year.
But this year, “essentially the entire senior class was given administrative access to the page”, allowing anyone to post on the social media platform.
One of the students in the photo, however, differed from Mr Gust's version of events. Jordan Blue, who is pictured neither lifting his arm nor smiling, said students were only told to raise one hand, not to wave goodbye to their parents.
“Which doesn’t give a bunch of teenagers a lot of guidance on how to raise their hands,” Mr Blue said, adding he felt many of the boys were doing a Nazi salute regardless of the intended instructions.
“I felt upset, unsafe, disappointed and scared. I felt unsafe because I go to school with them, I don’t believe in what they represented and the symbol they shared … they knew it was wrong, but they still did it.”
The Baraboo School District and police are investigating the photo.
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