Gossip website TMZ.com re-edited graphic footage of a 19-year-old man being shot to death outside a Hollywood nightclub, following an online protest from the teen's family that drew support from more than 212,000 people.
The family of the victim, Andre Lowe of South Los Angeles, publicly called on TMZ.com to take down the shaky, hand-held video showing a fist fight that spread into a melee, and ended with two shots being fired and the young man sprawled motionless on the pavement.
"My family found out about the video when they came home from the hospital where Andre died," said Lowe's uncle, Jason Andrews, in an email sent to The Times. "Some family members hadn't even been notified of his death yet and it was already posted to the web. To know that the last two minutes of a loved one's life is being viewed by thousands of strangers for entertainment is like pouring salt in an open wound."
Late Tuesday, the TMZ.com video had been re-cut to remove the image of Lowe lying in the street.
A segment of the video, wich does not contain the image of the young victim, also appears on the Los Angeles Times website.
Days after the Jan. 13 shooting, Andrews initiated a petition on Change.org urging TMZ to remove the video, saying the family's tragedy had been turned into a spectacle to attract viewers. He said he decided to launch the online campaign after TMZ failed to respond to messages that he and other family members left regarding the video.
"These people have no regard for the loved ones affected by this tragedy. I understand freedom of press but the line has to be drawn somewhere," Andrews wrote in his online appeal. "Its very obvious that the media has no morals and nothing is off limits when it comes to gaining ratings. What they did is wrong and they need to be held accountable. No one wants to see their loved one in this position. Having this event viewed by millions of strangers is disgusting."
Andrews and others also contacted the site's advertisers via Twitter, urging the companies to withdraw ads from the TMZ page. More than two dozen advertisers have responded to the appeal, according to a Change.org spokeswoman.
Los Angeles Police Detective Herman Frettlohr said the dramatic footage, which TMZ provided to police on the night of the incident, enabled investigators to identify a suspect and make an arrest. Robert Earl Thomas, 22, of Los Angeles was arrested in Las Vegas on Jan. 15 on suspicion of shooting Lowe.
The online video prompted people to contact police with information about the identity of the suspected shooter, Frettlohr said. Police also enlarged the TMZ image and showed it to people who identified the suspect, he said.
"Without that video, I doubt very seriously we would have been able to resolve this case," said Frettlohr, one of two detectives investigating the case.
The family believes TMZ could have accomplished the same goal -- aiding in the apprehension of the alleged assailant -- by posting a single image of the man seen in the video holding a gun. TMZ appeared to have been motivated by "shock value" instead of the desire to "catch the shooter," Andrews said.
"My nephew's murder is not entertainment," Andrews said. "Losing a family member is hard enough. Part of the grieving process shouldn't include fighting with a media outlet who has nothing better to do than talk about which celeb gained two pounds or which talentless reality star had a wardrobe malfunction. Andre was not just a "clubgoer shot dead." He was a bright young man with goals and ambition and he didn't deserve to have his life ended in this manner."