The Digital Journalist
Covering Karr

by Paula Bronstein

September 2006

Somehow I happened to be in Bangkok, the city where I'm based but rarely appear, and by some means I was lucky enough to instantly get involved in this tabloid-style, Americana murder-mystery story from 10 years ago. I vividly remember the case because it took place in 1996 when I was still living and working as a newspaper photographer in the U.S.A.

American John Mark Karr, 41, is held by U.S and Thai authorities as a murder suspect at the Immigration office in Bangkok, Thailand, on Aug. 17, 2006. This was deemed a breakthrough in the high-profile, decade-old murder case of 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey until later DNA tests failed to prove his guilt.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
After checking the wires and e-mail I was alerted that a "murder suspect" connected with the JonBenet Ramsey case had been arrested here. I quickly called Saheed Kahn, the AFP chief photographer, to see if there would be access and found out that there was a 2 p.m. presser where Karr would be presented to the media. Once I got to the Immigration detention center I was totally taken by surprise. Everyone I know had come out of the woodwork for this one. At least a hundred people, many friends I hadn't seen in ages. I thought here we go…this is an American story but somehow the world's media is still transfixed on the gorgeous face of a doll, little JonBenet in her darling dresses at a beauty contest. Why else would the world care?

John Mark Karr was led out of the detention center and I was thankfully in a decent spot for the first two minutes, then the real media crush started as we made our way up the stairs to the press room: total media madness and complete chaos took over. It doesn't matter what country you're in, it's all the same. Perhaps the only difference here in Thailand is that the Thai culture tends to be very polite. There is certainly more respect and better access for the media than in the U.S.A., where I feel both have eroded since I left eight years ago.

American murder suspect John Mark Karr, 41, shown to the media on Aug. 17, 2006, is held by U.S and Thai authorities at the Immigration office in Bangkok, Thailand. This was considered a breakthrough in the high-profile, decade-old murder case of JonBenet Ramsey. According to Thai police, the suspect confessed to the crime, saying the 6-year-old beauty queen's death was not intentional. DNA results, however, later disproved his claim.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Karr was like the proverbial deer in the headlights--an awkward, thin man wearing high-wasted pants and whom I think accents his eyes with eyeliner. Whatever it was, every photo I took where he was looking at the camera gave me an uncomfortable feeling. I pushed my way around to get a different angle, one that showed Karr and the media in order to visually show the madness of the moment. Somehow it seemed that no one could get enough shots of him! Covering an American story has its benefits when you live overseas; you once again feel connected to the U.S. The next day I received e-mails from many friends who saw me on TV and I found out I had made the front pages of over a dozen newspapers.

For the next 4 or 5 days until Karr departed for the States, I shot whatever I could because the American publications soaked everything up. Working alongside the American Embassy personnel on Sunday, the day Karr departed, the Thai authorities were extremely helpful giving us all space to get our shots behind the lines set up. I wasn't satisfied with just getting his departure to the airport but neither was the rest of the international media, many of whom had flown to Thailand to do their own coverage. We all raced to the airport following the van and quickly created an embarrassing media scrum at the international airport that would have never been tolerated in most countries. We lost him as he was led into Immigration; never mind that I had also lost my earrings, my sunglasses were crushed and my fanny pack was wide open, my wallet on the floor. It was the worst media crush I had experienced in years!

After I recovered, I quickly went into action. I had brought my passport with me since I knew I would try to get to his gate. I went to the Thai ticket counter, bought a ticket to Singapore and went through immigration. Karr was somewhere in the airport and I would try and get one last shot of him. With some luck I made it to Gate 46 where the Los Angeles flight was departing. I was working with Todd Heisler from the Rocky Mountain News and we were staking out the area trying to decide how to get the last shot of this guy.

American murder suspect John Mark Karr, 41, is pushed through the media scrum by U.S and Thai authorities at the Immigration office, Aug. 17, 2006, in Bangkok, Thailand. His arrest and extradition seemed to be a breakthrough in the high-profile, decade-old murder case of 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey. DNA results, however, later disproved his confession.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Most of the media had disappeared which was such a blessing. We were looking out the window at the plane assuming he would be driven directly to the airplane when all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see the Thai police walking towards Gate 46 with the Americans in tow. I screamed, "Holy shit, he is walking to the damn gate!" We both scrambled and ended up having at least 15 minutes to shoot Karr with rather incredible access. It was all so strange; they just sat him down in the waiting area as the passengers stared, some asking who he was and whether he was some kind of a terrorist or what? You can only imagine what a passenger would think with all the paranoia that exists these days for travelers.

I was thrilled when it was finally over, when I got the last photo of John Mark Karr as he stared at me one last time with his intense, piercing eyes. He was trailed by a handful of media from AP, Fox, CNN and the like that were joining him on his business-class flight to America. I said goodbye as he disappeared into the night.

© Paula Bronstein

Paula Bronstein attended the University of Colorado and Salzburg College in Austria, majoring in photography. She received a BFA with a major in photojournalism at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Paula started her career as a photographer in 1992 with the New Haven Register and then The Hartford Courant newspapers. She spent a year at The Chicago Tribune and went on to The Register Guard, Eugene, Oregon, in 1997. In 1998 Bronstein became a freelance photographer and based herself in Bangkok. An award-winning photographer, she has been with Getty Images since June 2002. This year Paula Bronstein's awards included "Photo of the Year" in the China International Press Photo contest and she was also a judge at World Press.

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