2023 Excellence in Visual Digital Storytelling, Large Newsroom winner

AR-15: The Blast Effect

About the Project

The AR-15 is the firearm of choice for many mass killers, with the weapon involved in 10 of the 17 deadliest shootings since 2012. Yet the carnage wrought by the bullets from AR-15s is rarely seen by the public. News organizations do not generally publish graphic autopsy or crime scene photos because the images could be viewed as dehumanizing, exploitative and traumatizing. Media accounts rely on antiseptic descriptions from law enforcement officials and medical examiners, who, in some cases, have said that the remains were so unrecognizable that they could be identified only through DNA samples. As a result, the damage AR-15 fire can do to a human body — a great deal more than handguns — is not widely understood.

The question was how to present an unflinching, yet respectful, portrayal that would inform and seek to reshape the nation’s entrenched gun debate.

In “The Blast Effect,” The Post’s N. Kirkpatrick, Atthar Mirza and Manuel Canales combined deep, revelatory reporting with gripping, innovative visuals to reveal how the AR-15 eviscerates tissue and organs.

The story is told in two dramatic sections, with a surprise element at the end. The introduction sets the mood with three video clips, each from a different mass shooting. The first section uses a 3D animation to show the trajectory of two hypothetical gunshots to the chest — one from an AR-15 and another from a typical handgun – to illustrate the severity of the AR-15. The second depicts the entrance and exit wounds of two actual victims — Noah Pozner, 6, and Peter Wang, 15 — killed in school shootings when they were struck by multiple bullets.

The piece is based on a review of nearly 100 autopsy reports from several AR-15 shootings as well as court testimony and interviews with trauma surgeons, ballistics experts and a medical examiner. The documents and testimony allowed The Post to illustrate with precision the wounds suffered by Pozner and Wang, whose families each consented to the boys’ inclusion in the piece.

Judges Comments

The visualizations manage to be both forceful and sensitive, providing a stark view into trauma without succumbing to sensationalism.