After a burst of gun violence claimed 13 lives at Columbine High School in 1999, a difficult question confronted a Colorado judge: whether to order the release of autopsies sought by local media under the state’s public records law.
The judge, Jose D.L. Márquez, decided to keep the graphic reports hidden, ruling that the rampage was an “extraordinary event” that lawmakers could not have anticipated when they wrote the law. As evidence, he cited the “unique factor” of the community’s trauma, illustrated by an outpouring of grief and a presidential visit.
A quarter-century after Columbine, then the deadliest mass shooting ever visited on a high school, the reactions highlighted by the judge — including public memorials and visits from politicians — are no longer signs of an extraordinary event. They’re routine grief rites.
But as gun violence has grown more common, state lawmakers have increasingly restricted access to government records documenting its destructive impact, such as photos and videos showing mutilated bodies and audio recordings capturing children’s cries.
Full story: As mass shootings multiplied, the horrific human cost was concealed