As the mass shooting that left ten people dead was still unfolding Monday afternoon in Boulder, Colorado, the incident was playing out live on YouTube to an audience of 30,000 people.
The livestreamer, Dean Schiller, had left King Soopers supermarket on Table Mesa Drive just before the shooting began. When he heard the first shots fired, he turned on his phone and began to record.
More than three hours later, Schiller, who describes himself as a citizen journalist and operates the ZFG Videographer YouTube channel, finally stopped recording. He had documented a major mass shooting in real time for viewers who had little information. He was also criticized for filming dead victims, arguing with officers who tried to get him to evacuate the scene, speculating about the identity and motives of the suspect, and revealing police tactics taking place in real time.
As of Tuesday morning, the video has been viewed more than 560,0000 times on YouTube. Despite showing dead victims, YouTube says it has no intention of removing the video, although it has applied a warning label.
“Following today’s tragic shooting, bystander video of the incident was detected by our teams,” Elena Hernandez, a YouTube spokesperson, said in a statement to VICE News. “While violent content intended to shock or disgust viewers is not allowed on YouTube, we do allow videos with enough news or documentary context. We applied an age restriction to the content and will continue to monitor the situation.”
During the livestream, YouTube users guessed about the identity of the gunman, and wrote conspiracy theories about the shooting.
“The comments section was wild with speculation about potential suspects, as well as anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories including that the attack was a false flag,” Jordan Wildon, a researcher who tracks far-right extremists, told VICE News. “These were fueled by what was shown on-stream.”
Schiller was also criticized for revealing police tactics that the shooter could have watched from inside the store as they were playing out in real time. The police specifically asked media outlets not to reveal tactical information, the Denver Gazette reported.
Researchers and journalists also called out Schiller’s decision to show graphic images of dead bodies, and spread his own unsubstantiated theories about what was happening.
Amarnath Amarasingam, an extremism researcher, pointed out that spreading such rumors was irresponsible. “[It] creates panic, and you don't know shit,” Amarasingam said on Twitter.
Schiller began livestreaming just moments after the mass shooting started at around 2.45 p.m. on Monday afternoon.
“Hey guys, I don't know what's going on,” Schiller says. “I'm at King Soopers in South Boulder, and I heard gunshots. They were very close. Someone's down right here.”
The video shows Schiller returning to the entrance of the store with the camera panning to the parking lot and showing several bodies lying motionless on the ground. He tells other people at the scene to call 911 and continues to film.
Another witness tells him the shooter is still in the store and as Schiller moves inside, he sees another body lying on the ground. At this point Schiller leaves the store and goes to the parking lot, telling other people to hide because of an active shooter situation.
Schiller captures the moments the first police officers arrive on the scene, showing two officers not wearing tactical gear entering the store. Moments later more gun shots can be heard coming from the store.
Schiller’s stream quickly went viral and at one point reached 30,000 consecutive viewers.
Schiller captured the moment the police brought a man out of the store in handcuffs. The man was wearing only his underwear and one leg was covered in what looked like blood.
On multiple occasions Schiller was asked to leave the parking lot by police officers, but he refused, saying he was a journalist and was just doing his job.
“I’m a journalist, don’t yell at me, I’m watching you, I’ll do what I want.” At a later point, he told officers to “fuck off.”
When someone in the livestream chat questioned his credentials, Schiller asked: “Who says I’m not a journalist? Is there a school for journalists?”
After being removed from the scene by police, Schiller gave several media interviews — which he also live streamed — and then traveled by car to another suspected shooting scene in Boulder that police had cordoned off.
Schiller eventually ended the livestream after more than 3 hours telling someone off camera that his battery was running out — but not before he told those still watching to like his videos and subscribe to his channel.