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Reporters root through San Bernardino shooters' apartment on live TV

Reporters from several major news networks entered the apartment of Syed Rizwan Farook and wife Tashfeen Malik on Friday morning with cameras rolling to show the world what lay inside — live, uncensored and on national TV.
News crews crowded into the Redlands, Calif., apartment shared by San Bernardino shooting rampage suspects Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik Friday morning as the world looked on in shock. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Reporters from several major news networks entered the apartment of Syed Rizwan Farook and wife Tashfeen Malik on Friday morning with cameras rolling to show the world what lay inside — live, uncensored and on national TV.

The FBI has said the couple are responsible for the mass shooting at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., which is now being investigated as an act of terrorism.

Footage of the apartment aired Friday by CNN and MSNBC was described as everything from "surreal" to "disturbing." Reporters could be seen going through household items, broken toys and photos of unidentified children. Clear images of IDs belonging to Farook and Malik, who were shot and killed by police, were broadcast – along with other IDs found in the home.

CBC's Matt Kwong, who was inside the apartment, said reporters were leafing through papers, splaying out baby photos on a bathroom floor, holding up Islamic literature and rummaging through food in the couple's pantry.

What appears to be a list of items seized by the FBI during its investigation was also found in the Redlands, Calif., residence. The document, dated Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, was read out loud while reporters walked around the home, said Kwong.

It is presently unclear how media outlets gained access to the home.

Initial reports indicated the apartment's landlord, Doyle Miller, had opened the residence for journalists to look inside. Some reporters at the scene, including the CBC's Kim Brunhuber, tweeted that Miller had let them in.

After the apartment was filled with journalists and curious neighbours, Miller told CBS News that it wasn't his intention to let news outlets into the home.

He said that when he opened the apartment's door, reporters "rushed in."

Also unclear is whether or not police had authorized anyone to be in the apartment, and whether it was still an active crime scene.

There were no local police officers or FBI officials at the apartment while reporters were in the home.

The FBI said they had turned the apartment back over to the landlord. 'Anyone who goes in at that point has nothing to do with us,' said David Bowdich of the FBI when questioned about the media's entry into the home. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

"As far as they told us, it's still an active investigation going on," San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputy Olivia Bozek told the L.A. Times as people were still inside the residence. "I don't know why there's people in there."

While there was some initial confusion over the FBI's status on the investigation at the apartment, the bureau confirmed during a news conference at 2 p.m. ET that it had, in fact, released the crime scene. 

"Once we turn that location back over to the occupants of that residence, or once we board it up, anyone who goes in at that point has nothing to do with us," FBI assistant director David Bowdich told reporters.

Kwong said a woman claiming to be the landlord's wife arrived at the apartment around 1:45 p.m. ET and "screamed at everybody" until everyone left the residence.

Doyle Miller was then seen nailing a particle board across the door of the apartment.

As camera crews captured what was going on inside the apartment, many of those watching live footage of the scene on television took to the web with comments.

"What the Hell Just Happened on MSNBC and CNN?" wrote the Atlantic as footage was still airing on both networks. "As if the journalistic irresponsibility of baselessly speculating while holding up images of potentially innocent people on TV wasn't bad enough, it beggars belief the scene wasn't taped off and guarded."

"Was this responsible? Allowed? Good for the world?" wrote Slate. "Airing coverage live when there might be, say, Social Security numbers and other personal information of family members on display makes me think no, maybe, and doubtful, in that order."

Many on Twitter also expressed concern about what was happening — commenting that innocent people might be affected by the coverage, and wondering about the state of journalism in general.

Just after 3 p.m. ET, MSNBC issued a statement in response to the criticism. The statement, as published by the Washington Post, reads:

MSNBC and other news organizations were invited into the home by the landlord after law enforcement officials had finished examining the site and returned control to the landlord. Although MSNBC was not the first crew to enter the home, we did have the first live shots from inside. We regret that we briefly showed images of photographs and identification cards that should not have been aired without review.

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