If you could capture the moment right before a great tragedy, would you do it? There have been people who have captured those moments by accident, while other people did it on purpose, in order to get some attention from the media and the public. After a photo like that is taken, a big moral dilemma arises. To publish or not to publish, that is the question.
In this article, you’ll see 15 terrifying photos taken before history’s greatest tragedies. Some of them are very disturbing, while the others might seem completely normal, joyful even, if you don’t know the backstory behind them, or specifically, what happened just a moment after the picture was snapped. Many of those photos became very popular and went viral, so there is a chance you might have seen some of them before. Maybe you saw them and you didn’t even know what you were looking at. And while they might seem very different when you look at them, they all have one thing in common: They are reminders of horrible things that have happened in the past.
Take a seat and prepare to hear some disturbing stories about life and death, about tragedy and loss, and about people who didn’t know what the future had in store for them.
15. The Blackfish Case
In 2013, the documentary Blackfish, was released and it started a huge discussion worldwide about the captivity of orcas, also known as killer whales, because it is dangerous both for the whales and for the humans working with them. The primary intention of huge entertainment parks such as SeaWorld was to train orcas to perform shows alongside their trainers. However, the case of the orca Tilikum proved that this is not something to be taken lightly. Tilikum was involved in the deaths of three trainers and one of them happened during a show in front of a live audience in February of 2010. Tilikum grabbed his trainer Dawn Brancheau by the ponytail and killed her. The picture captures Tilikum’s attack on another trainer that managed to escape due to sheer luck.
14. The Last Photo of John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy, also known as JFK, was the 35th President of the United States and he was one of the most popular politicians of all time. This picture was taken on November 22,, 1963 — the day of his assassination. He went on a political trip to Texas and he was shot once in the back and once in the head while he was riding in a car. He was killed at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time and this picture was taken just a couple of minutes before the shots were fired. It is the last known picture of John F. Kennedy alive. It was also the last time that any US president rode in an open top car. The same day, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the President’s murder, but he was killed two days later by Jack Ruby.
13. MH17 Flight
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was the deadliest airliner shoot-down ever, and the eight deadliest plane crash. It was scheduled to fly from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, but it was shot down by a rocket while flying 33,000 feet over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. The incident is still under investigation and it remains unclear as to who fired that shot or why. All 283 passengers and 15 crew members were killed. In the picture, you can see a mother and daughter that were on that flight. The picture was probably taken by the father. It was taken just moments before they all died. By December 2014, 292 bodies were identified. Two bodies have been found but not identified, and four bodies are still missing. Different theories, including numerous conspiracy theories about this crash, have been constructed since the occurrence, but no one is completely sure what really happened.
12. The Titanic
Everybody has heard of the Titanic, the ship that was said to be unsinkable. It was the largest ship afloat at the time, with 2,224 passengers and crew traveling from Southampton to New York City. Unfortunately, they never reached their destination. The ship left Southampton on April 10, 1912 and 4 days later, on April 14, 1912, around 11:40 p.m., it hit an iceberg 375 miles south of Newfoundland and sunk two hours and 40 minutes later. 710 people were saved, while more than twice that many died that day, making this incident one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters ever. This was the last picture of Titanic afloat. It was captured on April 14, 1912, a few hours before the ship began its descent to the bottom of the ocean.
11. Columbine School Massacre
The Columbine High School Massacre was the deadliest school shootings in the history of the US. Thirteen people were killed (twelve students and one teacher) and 21 were injured. The attack occurred on April 20, 1999. It was well-planned by senior students of Columbine High School Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. It involved a fire bomb for drawing firefighters’ attention, numerous bombs made out of propane tanks in the cafeteria, 99 explosive devices, and the shooting.
The person we see in the picture was teacher David Sanders. The image was captured in the cafeteria where he rushed to warn the students of the two attackers on loose. Shortly after that, he was shot to death. The shooting began at 11:19 a.m. and the picture was captured at 11:24 a.m. Most of the people were killed in the “library massacre” between 11:29 a.m. and 11:36 a.m. At 12:08 a.m. both perpetrators committed suicide.
10. Regina Kay Walters
Regina Kay Walters was one of the victims of serial killer and r*pist Robert Ben Rhoades, also known as The Truck Stop Killer. He has been convicted for three murders, although there is reason to believe he r*ped and killed over 50 women in a 15-year time period. He enjoyed torturing his victims, cutting their hair, dressing them in clothes of his choice, and taking their pictures afterward. This is one of the pictures he took and it captures one of his victims, Regina Kay Walters, shortly before he took her to abandoned barn and killed her. It was the last picture of her he ever took. She was only 14 years old at the time. She had ran away from her home in Texas with her boyfriend Ricky Lee Jones. Rhoades killed the boyfriend before torturing Regina.
9. The Assassination of John Lennon
The assassination of John Lennon is one of the most famous assassinations of all time. John Lennon was one of the four Beatles and there is probably no person in the world who hasn’t heard about John or the story of a crazy fan who murdered him on December 8, 1980, at the age of 40. The creepiest thing about this picture is the fact that it captures John signing the album for his killer earlier in the day of the murder. Mark David Chapman waited for John in front of his apartment in New York City and asked John to sign a copy of Double Fantasy for him. Later that day, he aimed at John’s back and fired five bullets at him. John Lennon was pronounced dead at the Roosevelt Hospital at 11:15 p.m.
8. Oklahoma City Bombing
The bombing in Oklahoma City was one of the deadliest attacks ever in the US. It was the second deadliest terrorist attack (following 9/11) and the deadliest domestic incident in the history of the United States. It occurred on April 19, 1995, when Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh used a rental truck to carry explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. This picture was captured by surveillance cameras just moments before the bombs went off and you can see the truck in question in the picture. 168 people were killed that day, 680 were injured, and one-third of the building was destroyed. Another 324 buildings in the near proximity were damaged, as well as 86 cars. The bombers responsible for the attack were convicted in 1997. One was executed by lethal injection, while the other was sentenced to life in prison.
7. The First Ebola Outbreak
The Ebola virus was first identified in 1976 when the first two major outbreaks happened, one in Sudan and one in Congo. The disease was named after the Ebola River, located near the Yambuku village in Congo where one of the first outbreaks happened. In this picture, you can see two nurses standing next to Mayinga N’Seka who died a few days later. She was also one of the nurses treating Ebola patients.The virus took her life along with 280 other lives at that time. In the time period between 1976 and 2013, there were 24 outbreaks with 1716 cases of Ebola reported. The largest outbreak ever was the one in West Africa between December 2013 and January 2016 with almost 30,000 cases, 11,310 of which were fatal.
6. Sabena Flight 548
On February 15, 1961, Sabena Flight 548 crashed on its way from New York City to Brussels, Belgium. All 72 people on the plane were killed, as well as one person on the ground. In the picture, you can see the U.S. figure skating team moments before boarding a Boeing 707 that was supposed to get them to the World Figure Skating Championship. The whole team died that day in the deadliest plane crash that has ever occurred in Belgium. It was also the first fatal accident ever involving this type of plane in regular passage service and the exact cause of the crash has never been determined. The loss of the complete U.S. figure skating team, along with their family members and coaches, was considered so horrible that the 1961 World Figure Skating Championship in Prague was immediately canceled.
5. The Carterton Balloon Tragedy
This particular incident is considered the worst air disaster ever to occur in New Zealand. The Carterton hot air balloon crash occurred on January 7, 2012, when the hot air balloon collided with a high voltage power line and caught fire. The accident resulted in eleven deaths (all ten passengers and the pilot were killed). The balloon, named Mr. Big, was a Cameron A-210 model. It took off at 6:38 a.m. from Carterton, with one of the most experienced balloon pilots in New Zealand. However, the investigation showed that the accident might have been caused by the pilot’s error in judgment, which was possibly a result of TCH from smoking cannabis that was found in his system. It was the deadliest ever balloon accident in New Zealand and the fourth deadliest worldwide. The deadliest one was the one in Egypt in 2013 where 19 people were killed.
4. The Station Nightclub Fire
On February 20, 2003, one of the greatest nightclub fires in US history occurred during a concert performed by Jack Russell’s Great White in the Station Nightclub. This picture captures the moment when the musician noticed the fire caused by their tour manager who set off pyrotechnics. The fire would spread to kill 100 people and to injure 230 more. 132 people managed to escape without physical injuries, but many developed PTSD as a result of this traumatic event. Daniel Michael Biechele, the tour manager, was accused of involuntary manslaughter of 100 people and he pleaded guilty on February 7, 2006. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and he was released on parole in March 2008.
3. Mount Everest Pioneers
This picture was taken in 1924 at Mount Everest base camp and it captures George Mallory and Sandy Irvine. Mallory took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest, but unfortunately he never came back from this one. Both he and his climbing partner disappeared while attempting to make the first ascent of Mount Everest. Several expeditions were sent out to find them (or their remains), but all of them were unsuccessful. 75 years later, in 1999, Mallory’s body was discovered. The investigation showed that the two were probably roped at the moment of the fall, though Irvin’s body has never been discovered. There has been some speculation about whether or not Mallory and Irvine reached the summit. There is some evidence pointing in that direction, but the question is still being researched.
2. The Sultana
This case is not as famous as the case of the Titanic, but it was actually the deadliest maritime tragedy in the history of the United States. Sultana was a side-wheel steamboat that exploded on April 27, 1865 on the Mississippi River. The boat was carrying 2155 people, 1800 of which died. This tragic accident didn’t get all the attention it deserved because it happened only one day after President Lincoln was murdered and it fell into the shadow of the other terrible tragedy. This picture was taken one day before the explosion at Helena, Arkansas. The explosion was probably caused by mismanagement of water levels in the boiler in combination with the fact that the boat was seriously overcrowded since it was designed with a capacity of 376 passengers only.
1. The Last Picture of Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights activist well-known for fighting against racial inequality through nonviolent resistance, which was a reason for him receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. This picture captures Martin Luther King, Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis the day before he was killed by James Earl Ray in this exact place. On April 4, 1968, at 6:01 p.m., as he stood on the second-floor balcony in the picture, he was fatally shot in his cheek. He died at St. Joseph’s Hospital one hour later. The autopsy showed that his heart was too weak to undergo an emergency heart surgery performed in the attempt to save his life. Though he was only 39 years old, the severe stress that he was under for so many years weakened his heart to make it look like a heart of a 60-year-old.
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