McCLELLANVILLE, S.C. — John Lites was one of the first police officers to respond to a 911 call from Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015, when a white gunman murdered nine Black people attending a Bible study.
Lites arrived at the scene only minutes after the first emergency call was placed. He held one of the victim’s hands as the man died. Lites then stood guard inside the fellowship hall all night — remaining even through a bomb threat — to prevent people who didn’t need to be there from entering the room.
“I didn’t want anyone else to see it,” Lites said. “I was totally traumatized.”
Crime scenes are inherently disturbing. A few weeks after the mass shooting in Charleston, Lites found himself in the clutches of post-traumatic stress and unable to sleep. The scene inside the church was imprinted on his memory.
“The worst thing you can possibly think of — it’s worse than that,” said Lites, who retired from the police force in 2018. “No one else needs to see that.”
A question that continues to be debated publicly — and is raised in the wake of each new mass shooting — is whether the publication of violent images, including those depicting gunshot wounds or police brutal …