Candlelit vigils and haunting photos of deceased children on the news have become all too familiar in recent decades.
Nashville is the latest community to be roiled by gun violence after a former trans student of a small Christian school opened fire on Monday morning, killing three nine-year-old children and three staff.
Newscasts highlighting different tragedies often have to obscure or pixelate the gory, visceral images of the damage that occurs in the walls to spare the public.
But doctors and trauma surgeons argue that this sanitizes the devastating toll that high-powered ammo from a military-style weapon has on the human body, especially that of a child.
Traveling at a speed of 3,300 feet per second, the bullets of an AR-15 assault rifle can cause irreversible damage to the compact body of a child
Parents of two school shooting victims – Noah Pozner, 6, killed in the Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 and Peter Wang, 15, killed in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 – gave the Washington Post permission to detail how the ultra-fast bullets of AR-15s mangled their children’s bodies.
Those effects are recreated in DailyMail.com’s graphic above.
Dubbed ‘America’s rifle’ by the National Rifle Association in 2016, the AR-15 shoots bullets faster than the speed of sound, liquifying tissue and bone and exploding internal organs of its victims.
The Nashville shooter used three guns to carry out his crimes, the AR-15 being one of them.
Assault weapons such as AR-15s have become the weapons of choice among mass shooters. The semi-automatic rifle has been used in 10 of the 17 deadliest US mass killings since 2012.
And they are highly effective at eviscerating bodies in a matter of seconds.
Traveling at a speed of 3,300 feet per second, the bullets of an AR-15 assault rifle can cause irreversible damage instantly. Upon impact with the heart, for example, a bullet from an AR-15 will cause instantaneous bleeding that is extremely difficult to stop. The victim will die in minutes.
A child, whose organs are small and whose bodies are of smaller surface area, are at higher risk of devastating injuries.
The bullets of an AR-15 are far more lethal than those of a traditional handgun, which leave exit wounds and linear tracks through the body that are roughly the size and circumference of the bullet.
An AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is usually chambered for either the military cartridge 5.56×45mm NATO or .223 Remington ammo. A handgun, meanwhile, will require smaller, slower bullets. A nine-millimeter handgun takes 9mm ammo.
When the bullet of an AR-15 hits a vital organ, like a lung, it shreds surrounding tissue and causes torrential bleeding that cannot be staunched. A bullet wound to the neck, meanwhile, could kill instantly if it hits the spine.
The Monday shooting at a small Christian school in Nashville prompted renewed calls for ‘thoughts and prayers’ for the victims and their families.
This week’s platitudes build upon those expressed following last year’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas that left 21 dead, the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 that left 17 dead, and the roughly 370 other mass shootings to take place at schools since the 1999 Columbine High massacre in Colorado.
An AR-15 bullet differs greatly from its 9mm handgun counterpart. The bullet travels at 1,200 feet per second and delivers a kinetic energy of 400 foot-pounds. Think of foot-pounds as a measure of force. An AR-15 bullet, meanwhile, delivers a force of 1300 foot-pounds.
AR-15 ammo creates an internal explosion, according to Dr Cynthia Bir, chair of biomedical engineering at Wayne State University in Detroit who specializes in human injury tolerances.
She is part of a team that simulated the path of an AR-15 bullet through the human body using a block of gelatin as a stand-in.
The bullet of a handgun has a relatively linear path through the tissue it pierces, while the bullet of an AR-15 causes an explosion within tissue, creating a much larger temporary cavity (pictured)
The handgun bullet’s path remains straight, while the cavity left in the path of the AR-15 bullet begins to collapse in on itself and creates a ripple effect of destruction so profound that it lifted the entire block of gelatin off its platform (pictured)
Dr Bir told DailyMail.com: ‘Say you have a two-inch diameter temporary cavity. Well, when you look at an adult, that may just affect the stomach or the small intestines or something.
‘But when you look at a child, because their organs are so much smaller, that that could affect the nearby organs percentage-wise a lot more.’
When the bullet of an AR-15 hits the chest, it eviscerates tissue as much as four inches around the original point of impact, exploding much of the lung in its path and resulting in massive bleeding. In a child, whose organ surface areas are smaller, the damage done is compounded further.
Imagine a speedboat ripping through a narrow canal, producing ripples in its wake that displace the surrounding water. An AR-15 projectile is similar in its ripple effect and ability to displace surrounding flexible tissue.
As it enters the body, the bullet expands the surrounding tissue and lacerates that which it comes in contact with. This process is called cavitation and it leaves the displaced tissue extremely mangled or killed. It is this initial internal explosion that creates the most damage.
The surrounding tissue then collapses on itself, leaving organ damage behind.
Dr Bir said: ‘And so you have that larger temporary cavity, which when the tissues expand to a larger degree, the more organs are affected, and there’s more damage to get can occur to those organs.
‘Then after the bullet passes through, that tissue collapses back down and can sometimes reverberate. And so what’s left is the permanent cavity, which is the bullet path.’
As it slows, the bullet may tumble, further lacerating the tissue and causing the bullet to follow unpredictable pathways within the body leaving behind often fatal injuries.
Dr Bir went on: ‘Your tissues have a certain tolerance to stretching, our skin is very elastic. It’s the same with all our tissues, which basically means that if you load them slowly [with projectiles], they might be able to expand more than if you load them very quickly.
‘And so with this quick loading in the tissue and the loading beyond its tolerance, the tissues end up breaking, which ends up resulting in organs being basically destroyed a lot of times with these high power rifle rounds.’
The sheer force and energy behind an AR-15 bullet can also leave behind a gaping exit wound that results in profuse bleeding.
When the bullet meets the heart or the aorta, bleeding is instantaneous and extremely difficult to stop. The victim will die in minutes.
An AR-15 bullet to the neck can sever major arteries, killing the victim in about five minutes maximum. If the bullet were to hit the cerebellum or the spine, death would be instantaneous.
When a high-speed assault rifle bullet hits a leg, the bone breaks instantly and tissue around the area is shredded and bleeding is profuse. Victims who survive the shots require dozens of surgeries and possibly amputation.
Gun violence is now the leading killer off American youth, a research report finds, surpassing motor vehicle crashes
Mourners gathered near Covenant School in Nashville at a memorial for the shooting victims
The Nashville community gathered for a vigil to honor the victims of Monday’s shooting
The Washington Post analyzed the manners of death of two victims of school shootings, the first being Noah Pozner and the second being Peter Wang.
The Post got consent from the boys’ parents before publishing.
Peter Wang’s cousin Lin Chen said that Peter’s parents, Hui and Kong Wang, ‘want people to know the truth.’
‘They want people to know about Peter. They want people to remember him.’
In Noah’s case, three bullets hit. One hit his thumb, leaving his hand mangled. Another struck the right side of his back and soared through his chest, filling the cavity with blood. According to court testimony from chief state medical examiner Wayne Carver, the bullet broke apart into fragments.
A bullet that hit Noah in the face caused catastrophic damage to his mouth and jaw.
Peter Wang, meanwhile, took 13 bullets from his assailant Nikolas Cruz, who bought his AR-15 legally. Peter was shot first in the foot while running, twice in the thigh, once in the torso, five times in his arms, and four times in the head.
Two bullets ripped Peter’s chest apart. One of them entered his torso, flew upward, and perforated his chest muscle, bruising his lungs and creating a cluster of three large exit wounds.
Four bullets hit Peter’s head, leaving behind such extensive, gory damage that an autopsy described his head as ‘deformed.’ Such damage, medical experts have said, could only be wrought by a high-velocity weapon like an AR-15.
The ‘AR’ in AR-15 comes from the name of the gun’s original manufacturer, ArmaLite, Inc. Mainly designed for hunting and sport, an AR-15 can fire at least 30 rounds, the number of bullets a magazine typically carries.
It is the civilian version of the military assault weapon called the M16 and is ubiquitous in gun stores and gun shows. It was designed to do the most amount of bodily harm in the least amount of time.
Guns have surpassed vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death in children. 2020 was the first year that gun violence overtook vehicle crashes as a leading killer – both due to a surge in firearm deaths and a rapid fall in vehicle related deaths over the past two decades.
Parents are furious and confronted by the horrible thought, once again, that they could hug their child in the morning before school and never do so again. The three child victims of the Covenant School shooting earlier this week were just nine years old.
Hale had no previous criminal record before opening fire at the Covenant School, killing three children and three adults
Mourning parents across the country have started posting photos of their own little ones on social media with the hashtag ‘This is nine years old.’
One North Carolina mom Jill Hartley wrote above a picture of her nine-year-old daughter: ‘My mind can’t stop thinking about these families that will never see their loved ones again. Our babies deserve better. Every child deserves to be safe at school. (But so thankful for what our school does and our SRO [School Resource Officer]!)
SROs are now fixtures in many US schools. They are law enforcement officers in charge of school safety and crime prevention. They’re often a school’s first line of defense against a would-be shooter.
Texas mom Victoria Comeaux posted on Facebook above photos of her son: ‘This is the second time in less than 12 months that I see my elementary school child peeking his head around the corner only to hear the news about another school shooting.
‘Last year, my son was in third grade and terrified to go to fourth grade because of the Uvalde tragedy – so close to home! Now, my son is in fourth grade, doing amazing might I add, yet instilled in his head is “she was targeting 9 year olds!” ￼(as he overheard on the news).
And Joyceline Pace from Missouri said: ‘The 3 students that lost their lives in the Nashville school shooting were all NINE years old. That’s the same age as our sweet Kinlie.
‘My heart hurts for the families and schools, including myself, that now live in constant WORRY and FEAR because you just never know anymore.’