In collaboration with Colombia’s La Liga Contra el Silencio and Cerosetenta, Newsy and Bellingcat reconstructed the shooting of Dilan Cruz, an 18-year-old student who was hit in the head with a bean bag round at a protest in Bogota on November 23, 2019. Cruz died from his injuries in hospital two days later.
Using a combination of open source videos and footage collected by our Colombian partners, we were able to identify the officer who shot Cruz by tracking his movements across several videos:
Working Backwards: Tracking Officer 003478
The process of identifying the officer who shot Cruz began with two videos showing the injury that eventually claimed Cruz’s life.
One video captured after he fell to the ground showed what appeared to be a bean bag round lodged in his skull. The second video, captured while he was receiving first aid, showed a woman struggling to remove what appears to be a piece of cloth from his skull. When she is unable pull the material out of Cruz’s head, the others prevented her from continuing her efforts, saying, “It’s lodged in there! It’s lodged in there.”
On November 28, three days after his death, a coroner confirmed that Cruz had been killed by a “bean bag” fired from a shotgun that caused “penetrating trauma” to his skull.
We began to analyze the images and videos captured at the scene of his shooting to determine whether the officer who fired the shot was visible in any of them. As a first step, this involved identifying which officers were carrying shotguns capable of firing bean bags. Not all of them were, after all: Some officers carried no weapons, while other carried riot shields or tear gas launchers.
One officer who was carrying a shotgun caught our attention. Approximately one minute before Cruz is shot, officer 003478 charges at a group of people across the street and fires two bean bags from his shotgun. This shooting was captured in two videos: one by a human rights activist broadcast on Facebook Live, and the other by a person on the scene shared with La Liga Contra el Silencio and Cerosetenta.
To track officer 003478’s movements in the minute leading up to Cruz’s shooting, we examined his uniform to determine whether he was wearing any uniquely identifying articles of clothing, and he was — a black police hat with a yellow brim hung off his right side, as did a long object (possibly from a zip-tie). None of the other officers around 003478 had these items on their uniforms.
Because no one video captured officer 003478’s movements from the time that he fired the first two shots to the time he fired the third, tracking him across the footage using these identifiers proved vital.
Here is officer 003478 approaching the intersection where Cruz fell. Note the yellow-brimmed hat and the long on his right side, as well as the fact that he is at the front of the police formation:
A video shared with La Liga Contra el Silencio and Cerosetenta offered the clearest footage of the shooting. In this video, officer 003478 can be seen raising and firing his shotgun towards the intersection were Cruz falls. Seconds later, he advances towards the intersection with his shotgun raised. At that moment, the yellow-brimmed police hat and the long object at the right side of the officer become visible:
The investigation into the killing of Dilan Cruz is ongoing as of this publication, according to the Colombian authorities.