AR 15 damage to human body

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Email
Print

THE BLAST EFFECT

The gun is the weapon of choice for many mass killers.It works with brutal efficiency.

The scenes of chaos and terror are all too familiar in America.

The AR-15 fires bullets at such a high velocity — often in a barrage of 30 or even 100 in rapid succession — that it can eviscerate multiple people in seconds. A single bullet lands with a shock wave intense enough to blow apart a skull and demolish vital organs. The impact is even more acute on the compact body of a small child.

“It literally can pulverize bones, it can shatter your liver and it can provide this blast effect,” said Joseph Sakran, a gunshot survivor who advocates for gun violence prevention and a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

During surgery on people shot with high-velocity rounds, he said, body tissue “literally just crumbled into your hands.”

The carnage is rarely visible to the public. Crime scene photos are considered too gruesome to publish and often kept confidential. News accounts rely on antiseptic descriptions from law enforcement officials and medical examiners who, in some cases, have said remains were so unrecognizable that they could be identified only through DNA samples.

As Sakran put it: “We often sanitize what is happening.”

The Washington Post sought to illustrate the force of the AR-15 and reveal its catastrophic effects.

The first part of this report is a 3D animation that shows the trajectory of two different hypothetical gunshots to the chest — one from an AR-15 and another from a typical handgun — to explain the greater severity of the damage caused by the AR-15.

The second part 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.

This account 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 records and interviews show in stark detail the unique mechanics that propel these bullets — and why they unleash such devastation in the body.

Two children, many bullets

When multiple bullets from an AR-15 strike one body, they cause a cascade of catastrophic damage.

This is the trauma witnessed by first responders — but rarely, if ever, seen by the public or the policymakers who write gun laws.

The Post determined that there is a public interest in demonstrating the uniquely destructive power of the AR-15 when used to kill.

What follows is a detailed depiction showing the impact of bullets fired from AR-15s at two young victims. It is based on autopsy reports for Noah Pozner and Peter Wang that The Post obtained through public records.

Due to the unusual visual nature of the presentation, The Post took the added step of seeking — and receiving — the consent of the victims’ families before proceeding with this account. The Post offered the families the opportunity to view the depictions in advance of publication, which they declined to do.

The families also declined to be interviewed for this story, but a spokesperson for the Wang family offered a statement explaining why Peter’s parents, Hui and Kong Wang, provided their consent to The Post.

“Peter’s parents want people to know the truth,” said Lin Chen, their niece and Peter’s cousin. “They want people to know about Peter. They want people to remember him.”

Noah was found dead on the floor of Classroom 8 at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, 2012. He was 6. He was wearing a red Batman sweatshirt, black pants and black sneakers.

He loved Batman. He was full of energy, his family said, curious and imaginative. He wanted to be an astronaut, and he also wanted to manage a taco factory, because he loved tacos. Noah would tease his sisters that when they went to bed, he was going off “to his third shift” at the factory, so convincingly that they would wake up to make sure he was still in bed.

It was cold that morning when his father, Lenny, dropped him off at school, “but he jumped out not wearing his jacket and he had one arm in one sleeve and his backpack in his other arm, and he was kind of juggling both and walking into the school that way,” Lenny Pozner would later testify.

“And that’s the last visual I have of Noah.”

The first visual that Connecticut state police Sgt. William Cario has of Noah is this: 15 children and two educators are piled on top of one another in a small school bathroom on the southwest corner of the classroom. Cario proceeded to pull them out one by one. All were dead.

One of them was Noah.

Peter was found dead in a third-floor hallway of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day 2018. He was 15. He was wearing his Army JROTC uniform.

He kept notes in his bedroom drawer about his plans. He had joined the military training corps, with its mission to “motivate young people to be better citizens,” as an important step toward attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Born in New York to parents from China, he was always helping everyone around him, friends and family said. Once, at Disney World, he held a friend’s child aloft in a crowd for 20 minutes so she could see a fireworks display.

When gunfire broke out at Parkland, Peter was in study hall, playing chess with a friend. He held the door open for other students to escape.

A few of them made it. He did not.

Peter was one of 16 Parkland victims who were shot several times. The shooter had equipped his AR-15 with the ability to fire dozens of rounds without pausing to reload, preventing people from escaping.

In many of America’s mass killings, shooters hit multiple victims, multiple times. In seconds.

About this story

Reporting by N. Kirkpatrick and Atthar Mirza. 3D modeling and animations by Manuel Canales and Ronald Paniagua. Jon Swaine and Alex Horton contributed to this report.

Design and development by Aadit Tambe, Anna Lefkowitz and Rekha Tenjarla. Design editing by Madison Walls.

Editing by Ann Gerhart, Peter Wallsten, Chiqui Esteban and Wendy Galietta. Additional editing by Jordan Melendrez, Kim Chapman and Tom Justice.

Additional support by Frank Hulley-Jones, Angela M. Hill, Natalia Jimenez, Sarah Murray, Courtney Beesch, Angel Mendoza, Bishop Sand, Kyley Schultz, Brandon Carter, Ashleigh Wilson and Bryan Flaherty.

Video credits: Bystanders take cover outside the Odessa Cinergy Theater during a shoot out with law enforcement in 2019 in Texas.

People flee as shots ring out at a Las Vegas concert on in 2017. (Twitter/Morgan Marchand/Storyful)

Students raise their hands as armed law enforcement officers enter a classroom at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018 (Alexander Ball/Storyful)

The models and animations were constructed from academic research reviews, interviews, autopsy reports and other records The Post obtained, in consultation with the following: Babak Sarani, director of trauma and acute care surgery at George Washington University Hospital; Joseph Sakran, vice chair of clinical operations and a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital; Cynthia Bir, chair of biomedical engineering at Wayne State University; and Victor Weedn, deputy medical examiner for Washington, D.C.

The Post relied on post-mortem and autopsy reports and medical examiner testimony at trials to illustrate with precision the entrance and exit wounds that were identified in the bodies of Noah Pozner and Peter Wang. The depictions are as precise as could be determined from the records, which included the medical examiner’s hand-drawn diagrams for Peter. Those documents do not detail the position the victims were in when they were struck, or the full sequence of the bullets and their precise path through the body.

 

The calculation that a .223 round fired from an AR-15 can reach speeds of up to six football fields in a second was made using a 55 grain .223 Remington full metal case round fired at a horizontal trajectory. The muzzle velocity of this round is 3,240 feet per second. This estimate accounts for drag as the bullet slows down over distance and time. It does not account for weather or other interference. Nor does it account for horizontal drop as the bullet would probably hit the ground before reaching six football fields. The Post consulted with mechanical engineer John Greenawalt and Cynthia Bir, chair of biomedical engineering at Wayne State University.

Ten of the 17 deadliest U.S. mass killings since 2012 have involved AR-15-style guns. (Handguns are involved in the bulk of U.S. gun homicides, responsible for 90 percent of cases in which the type of firearm is known.)

The Washington Post defines mass killings as a shooting event in which at least four people are killed, not including the gunman.

The timer at the conclusion includes 10 mass killing events that involved AR-15s. The time elapsed from the first shot to last were all under 11 minutes. That timing is approximate and based on official reports and news reports.