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On the afternoon of Dec. 2, hours after the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11, the San Bernardino Fire Department sent an official tweet: “Live updates on today’s events can be found on the LA Times web site.”
It was a ringing affirmation of what was already clear to readers and other news organizations: The Los Angeles Times was the source of the most current, most accurate and most comprehensive reporting on the tragedy.
The story broke shortly before noon that day, with vague reports from first responders of a “20 victim shooting” in San Bernardino, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. Within minutes, The Times confirmed the news and posted its first story. A Times reporter based in the area raced to the scene and began sending feeds to a live blog on latimes.com. A dozen reporters and photographers were launched from downtown L.A., with more to follow, while a team in the newsroom worked the phones, calling hospitals, neighbors, police and city officials.
In the first hour, staff members filled the live blog with a dozen posts: reporting that police were searching for gunmen, that bystanders were hiding in nearby businesses, that hospitals were preparing for casualties, that President Obama had been briefed, and that police had detonated a “suspicious device” left behind by the attackers.
By 11 p.m. that night, our main story had been updated 22 times, with details that revealed the full scope of the tragedy: 14 slain, 21 wounded, by a pair of black-clad assailants who opened fire on a holiday potluck for county health workers.
Over the course of that day, Times journalists pushed out 149 news reports on Twitter and 16 detailed posts on Facebook, including video.
Every news department at The Times was involved, with reporters chasing facets of this complicated story from San Bernardino to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
In the chaotic early hours, The Times was the first to report many of the chilling details. We also pursued the deeper stories that would help explain what happened. In the first 12 hours, along with continuous news updates, we posted half a dozen in-depth stories. One re-created the horror at the scene of the slaughter. Another reported that one of the shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook, had traveled to Saudi Arabia to get married – crucial early evidence that the attack might have terrorist roots.
Over the next few days, Times reporters in San Bernardino, Washington, Pakistan and the Middle East explored how Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, had become radicalized and had assembled a cache of weapons, all while keeping up appearances as a quiet young couple with a new baby. The Times was the first to report – from Islamabad — that Malik had studied a fundamentalist strain of Islam in Pakistan and had sent extremist messages to her Facebook friends.
The newspaper drew on its reporters’ deep knowledge of San Bernardino to give context to the tragedy. Many of the victims, we reported, were themselves immigrants — from Iran, Vietnam and Eritrea — who had come to this country seeking freedom, security and a better life.
We quickly built a database of the victims, their photographs and their life stories that was updated as information came in. We asked their loved ones to send us remembrances, which we published along with staff- written profiles. We were in the homes of victims, and we were with Ryan Reyes when he learned that his boyfriend was among the dead. Our photo of him in that moment became one of the iconic images of the tragedy.
Weaving together police dispatches, and audio and video recordings from witnesses, we created a multimedia reconstruction of the police pursuit of the killers, which ended in a gun battle. This was created a day after the dispatches were released.
“The LAT is demonstrating its enduring capacity to make sense of the chaos,” one reader wrote, in an email that echoed many others.
Lydia Polgreen, an editor at the New York Times, tweeted: “It’s amazing to see how the LA Times, after all it has been through, can bring it on a big story. Respect.”