Back in Febuary of 1997, America watched live coverage of two men clad head to toe in full body armor. It looked like it was from an action movie. It was not the television coverage that made my stomach turn, but the photo in the L. A. Times. It was a photograph of 9 people being taken away on stretchers, drenched in blood. Seven civilians and eleven officers were wounded that day. Officers not in the photo were picked up by an armored SWAT car and taken to the nearest hospital. If it had not been for the photo, many people probably wouldn’t have bought or read the L. A. Times.
Nationwide it was an inner battle between horror, understanding and shock upon hearing facts about that day. Many people’s first reaction to the photo was the urge to toss their cookies. There wasn’t really that much blood in the photo now that I see it today. Just knowing that eighteen people were shot by two same two men made me sick. The nation watched on TV as the men pulled out magazine after magazine of ammunition, then clip after clip when they ran out of ammunition for their M-16s and AK-47s and switched to handguns.
After a brief shootout showed that the standard police sidearm, a 9mm semi-auto pistol was not enough to penetrate body armor, and only made Emil Matasareanu and Larry Phillips flinch. The two men were outnumbered by 15 to 1 and the LAPD had to commandeer a local gun store. After the story unfolded, many people understood that something had to be done. For people who don’t normally even look at the paper today would see a surge in sales. People were horrified, but understood the need for the coverage. This was clearly a case of the public’s “right o know”.
Matasareanu and Phillips shot 3 police officers in the first five minutes, and kept shooting for 35 more minutes, firing more than 1,100 armor piercing bullets from AK-47 and SKS assault rifles. ” (Athens) Americans read about how the men had converted several semi automatic rifles to fully automatic fire. Everyone was horrified that two men could outgun the entire LAPD. It was shocking how close to escape Emil and Larry got that day. It was a terrible sight to see and hear about how the police were pinned down by automatic gunfire.
The police were neither trained, now equipped for a small scale war like this. Even LAPD’s SWAT team largely acknowledged as the best in the country was not prepared for these two. Nationwide, local police departments were purchasing surplus government weapons so this could not happen again. Phoenix and Glendale police departments purchased more than a thousand surplus M-16s and nearly as many tactical assault shotguns. Police are relieved to hear that they are unlikely to run into these two again, and if it does happen, officers are ready this time.
I am grateful that this story was covered the way that it was. After Emil and Larry killed eighteen people, I am relieved to know that police departments are more prepared for a similar incident in the future. “The brazen attack was covered by police helicopters hovering above the scene, some drawing fire from the suspects. ” (CNN). Even to this day, it is hard to imagine that anyone could match the ferocity and firepower of Emil and Larry. I was rapidly horrified by the image, understood why they used an eye-catching photo, and shocked at the impact of the story.