On Friday morning, up to 100 journalists began rummaging around the house formerly occupied by the married couple who carried out a mass shooting on Wednesday in San Bernardino.
And as that bizarre scene was playing out live on TV, critics — on Twitter and elsewhere — let out a collective yowl.
"You have a contaminated crime scene now," CNN legal analyst Paul Callan told host Wolf Blitzer. "They've turned a crime scene in a terrorist mass murder into a garage sale." In a suitably weird twist, Callan was making his comments as CNN was airing a split screen with footage from inside the home, showing laundry baskets, documents, toys and other personal effects.
Reporters at the scene — including from the Los Angeles Times — said the couple's landlord used a crowbar to pry open the door of the home of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik of Redlands, who were killed during a later shootout with police after authorities said the couple had slain 14 at a holiday party in San Bernardino.
A mob scene ensued, with reporters and camera crews from CNN and MSNBC — and a few non-media passersby — rifling through the townhome.
"There's a woman with a dog, walking through the house," CNN correspondent Victor Blackwell marveled on air, adding that nearby police and FBI officers made no attempt to stop news crews from shooting video inside and sifting through passports and papers.
Redlands Police Chief Mark Garcia said that although the FBI had released the scene to the property owner because it was of no investigative value, that individual should not have made entry without following the appropriate legal procedures.
He said his department stepped in to protect the rights of the dead persons' relatives and insure the property was secure. The scene was then closed.
"The landlord was not authorized to make entry into the apartment for the purposes they did," he said. "A landlord has to still go through the right process to enter."
Still, the reaction from Twitter was swift and furious. Many faulted the police for abandoning their authority and journalists for taking an unethical advantage of the situation.
"I'd like to thank MSNBC for creating next fall's curriculum for j-schools everywhere," @wfederman cracked.
Even a TV star who plays an FBI agent got into the act.
"Bones" star David Boreanaz tweeted: "The landlord just decides to open the killers/terrorists door so the media can rampage the site? Evidence a mess now! #bizarre."
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.
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