Two Letters Re: You Have to Shoot in TEOTWAWKI–Then What?

Mr. Rawles,
During my train up for my deployment to Iraq, we were taught how to properly document evidence for prosecution of suspected insurgents. Formerly, this was known as Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE), but was renamed to Tactical Site Exploitation (TSE) a few years ago. One of the biggest things drilled into us was they did not want any American soldiers in any of the pictures. There are probably a myriad of reasons for this, but it made sense. My suggestion with taking pictures to document anything would to not have any people in the pictures to begin with, if at all possible. When taking photographs of the scene, I would recommend when starting with any bodies, to not move or remove anything from it(except for moving any weapons out of arms reach when you initially come up to them, as to help maintain the safety of you and your group). Then, once you have the initial pictures taken, search the bodies(while documenting it), and take a picture of each individual item found. Put it in a pile. Once you are complete, organize all the items next to the body, then take a photograph of the body with the items(be sure you clear all weapons, accidents happen). Then, bag it all up in a bag (we used heavy duty black trash bags), and tag it with a date, time, and if the person it’s from had some sort of identification, the name. Tag the weapons the same and store them separately, such as a gun safe.

As far as a written documentation of the event, I would normally go with a DA Form 2823, which is a Sworn Statement. However, at the bottom of the last page, it needs a signature from “a person authorized by law to administer oaths”. Quite frankly, if all you have is a neighbor to sign off on it, then so be it. Or, use it as a reference to make your own. This form is at a .mil web site, but you do not need to log in.

And I agree with Mr. Rawles: It is better to over-document it and not need it, than to not document enough and wish you had, down the road.

Good luck, God bless, and God speed, – Z.R.

Mr. Rawles,
I respectfully disagree with your response to Scott P. on how to act in the aftermath of a shooting in a SHTF scenario.

I am a law student in my final year, and though I am not an attorney yet (this is not and should not be considered legal advice), I would recommend treating each shooting on a case by case scenario. The worst thing you can do is provide the dead person’s family or an overzealous prosecutor with more evidence and ammunition. Let’s say you do document the scene, you are not a criminal investigator, you don’t know about body positions, ballistics, and the applicable legal issues. You can make a mistake that will make the pictures look worse than they are. You may mistakenly write something in an after action report that is damning to your case. You do not have an attorney with you to counsel you on what to say or not say. You are not an expert in forensics and prosecutors and plaintiff’s attorneys can twist things to make them look very bad.
I think that the best way to deal with a self-defense killing in a SHTF scenario you need to leave as little of a trace as possible. Burn bodies where possible. or dispose of in swamps or with chemicals if available, or bury them in unmarked graves (health concerns should govern first followed by leaving no trace). If you live in a place with lots of carrion-eating wildlife (coyotes, wolves, bears, vultures, foxes) then leaving the bodies a very far distance from your homestead could also work. I’m sure there are other and better ways, but the key is if there is no evidence then there is “no evidence.” Beyond a reasonable doubt is an extremely high threshold and without a body or any evidence there is very little of a case. However, if there is a great deal of evidence the chances of being charged with a crime increases. This is of more of a concern when dealing with politically motivated or populist prosecutions in the aftermath. 

When in doubt, do not document.  In fact, destroy any and all evidence that you may have. It is the killings with no evidence and a closed-mouthed family/retreat group who never talks to police (because you never legally have to) that will pass scrutiny, but give them reams of potential evidence and that is another story.

Regards and keep up the good work! – G.

JWR Replies: It seems that were are at opposite ends of the spectrum on this issue. In my estimation, the approach that you propose could only work for someone who lives in a very remote wilderness area with no neighbors. Even here in the relative hinterboonies at the Rawles Ranch, we have a some neighbors that live within a mile. I suspect that the majority of SurvivalBlog readers have neighbors that live a lot closer than that. So, odds are someone will hear the commotion of rapid fire shooting and they will come to investigate before you have your chance to “burn the bodies” as you suggest.

Let’s face it, even if you had a lot of time, there would be too many loose ends to tie up. Here are a few instances:

1.) Most modern guns are automatics, which means that they eject fired brass. If you were to miss finding just one piece of brass (and there might be dozens in a serious shooting affray), then there is evidence for prosecution–or at least a civil suit.

2.) Most Americans travel everywhere by motor vehicle. What are you going to do with the bad guys’ vehicle(s)?

3.) When someone dies of gunshot wound, there is a tremendous amount of blood that gets spilled and in most cases it gets splattered around liberally and at surprising distances. (When people die they tend to thrash around.) Real life gunshot wounds are not at all like you see in television shows–with just a quaint little dribble of blood and then the bad guys drops instantly to the ground and dies with a sigh. In the real world, expect to hear people screaming their lungs out, expect to see people running or even crawling for considerable distances after getting shot, and expect to see a veritable Technicolor paint job of several gallons of blood, brain matter, bone marrow, spittle, stomach contents, and feces spread far and wide. Trust me on this. In college, I worked as a security guard at a hospital emergency room. An emergency room can best be called “A place of fluids”–just one notch below a cattle slaughterhouse. And, FWIW, consider that we typically saw the patients 15 to 60 minutes after the initial bloodshed. There, the larger portion of the fluids were left behind. Places where people die of gunshot wounds are rarely tidy. (And, BTW, when they are found looking tidy, there is usually a lot more to the story.)

4.) The predators in our society tend to travel in packs. Unless you are incredibly lucky and shoot all the bad guys dead, then there probably will be a living witness, and odds are that he will be a hostile witness. You may need all of the supporting evidence that you can muster.

5.) Not only do we live in a litigious society, but we also live in a society where cell phones with integral digital cameras have become ubiquitous. Whenever there is deep drama and trauma, then out come the cell phones.

6.) Do not trust in promises to “keep quiet”, by your neighbors. History has shown repeatedly that people rarely keep such promises in capital crime cases. People do talk. Eventually the truth will come out.

7.) Modern forensic science has removed the need for 200 pounds of rotting corpus delicti for evidence to secure a murder conviction. Just one human hair with a root intact or one dried blood droplet providing DNA evidence could been deemed sufficient to corroborate testimony from eyewitnesses.

Lastly, consider that the standards of evidence required in a civil suit are much lower than those needed in a criminal case. Just ask O.J. Simpson. (Some have claimed that he “got away with murder”, but then he lost $33.5 million in the civil suit filed by Ron Goldman’s relatives.)

Nothing is more damning in the eyes of a jury than a defendant’s attempts to conceal or destroy evidence. I stand by what I wrote: If your actions were righteous self defense, then document your evidence, don’t try to destroy it.