Photos tell stories, intentionally or not. Sometimes small details are revealed only after the images have been viewed several times from all angles. Sometimes it seems like they are not disturbing images at all, but behind them lies a backstory or events that took place sometime after the picture was taken and are full of horror. So it’s no surprise that people are fascinated by strange, disturbing images and that entire online groups are dedicated to sharing them.
Below we will tell you about seemingly ordinary images that, if you look closely, reveal horrific and sad stories. We apologize if some of these disturbing images give anyone nightmares tonight.
Mountain of skulls
The first of the disturbing images on our list is a mountain of bison skulls. Between 1800 and 1900, American settlers, who seemed to have an unquenchable bloodlust, hunted buffalo. Trains were packed with fun-hungry hunters who shot the animals right out of the windows of the traveling train and killed several at once. As soon as the buffalo fell, they were skinned, and their tongues cut out. Then, the remains were left to decompose in the blazing sun. The trains often did not even stop, and the animals were killed just to amuse white people.
Between 1872 and 1874, one railroad company shipped half a million buffalo hides east, and eventually, the population was nearly extinct. Their numbers dwindled from tens of millions to a few hundred.
This photograph captures the aftermath of the horrific slaughter. We see a mountain of bison skulls in the Midwest in the mid-1870s.
Fortunately, conservationists, native tribes, ranchers, and many others have made a concerted effort to save the species from extinction. Today, there are 500,000 in the United States.
There are often dramatic stories behind disturbing images. Here is one of them.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart’s family had six adopted children. Devonte Hart was one of them.
He took part in a demonstration against police violence in Portland in 2014 and was photographed hugging a white police officer, pain reflected on his face. The photo went viral on various platforms, and the boy was in the public eye.
The photo’s emotion captured on the boy’s face took on a whole new meaning in March 2018, when the world awoke to the news that the Hart family’s SUV had fallen off a cliff in California. All family members were in the car then, and police believed the driver, Jennifer, had intentionally driven off the cliff. Five bodies were discovered at the time. Later, the body of Siera (one of six children) was discovered, and the remains of Hannah Hart were found on the beach in May 2018.
It was later revealed that Jennifer was intoxicated behind the wheel. At the same time, Sarah sat in the passenger seat, looking for different ways to kill herself. One search included “How long does it take to die of hypothermia by drowning in a car?”
A subsequent investigation uncovered gruesome details about the Hart family life. There were allegations of child abuse, and one of the family’s neighbors told the news station that Devonte, 15, often came to her house asking for food. She claimed that as punishment, Jennifer and Sarah Hart starved the kids and prohibited them from playing outside. No one ever discovered Devonte Hart’s body.
The Tree of Children’s Graves
Often disturbing images tell of mystical rituals beyond ordinary modern man’s comprehension. For example, in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, a Toraja ethnic group professes animism. They believe that non-human beings, including fauna, flora, and sometimes inanimate objects, possess “spirits. These people also practice elaborate funeral rites, an occasion for a family gathering. Participation in these events reaffirms their commitment to ancient beliefs and traditions for the rest of the villagers.
Some of these funerals last several days, as several ceremonies must be performed. Since the average Toraja family does not have enough money to cover the funeral cost, it sometimes takes months or years before the ceremony occurs. In the meantime, the deceased is embalmed and is under the same roof as the family. When the ceremony is finally completed, the dead is placed in a beautiful coffin and carried into a cave or suspended from a rock.
Children are buried in different ways. If an infant dies before teething, his remains are wrapped in cloth and placed in a hollowed hole in the trunk of a tree. The hole is covered with palm fiber and caulked. It is believed that when the tree begins to grow, it absorbs the child.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem at all like it could be one of the famous disturbing images. One gets the impression that this picture is just an ordinary snapshot of American schoolchildren. It seems so until you discover that the two boys in the upper left corner firing imaginary weapons at the camera are none other than Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
A few weeks after this picture was taken at Columbine High School in 1999, the two young men set in motion a sinister plan they had been working on for more than a year. The seniors planted bombs in the cafeteria and in their cars parked in the school parking lot. The bombs failed to detonate, but the two young men began shooting and killing 12 students and a teacher, wounding 21 others and three others as they tried to escape.
The school library was the scene of the suicides of Harris and Klebold.
It later emerged that the shooters hoped their planned mass murder would take more lives than the Oklahoma City bombing.
Disturbing images often tell stories of horrific crimes. For example, Samantha Koenig, an 18-year-old girl, was abducted from her workplace in Anchorage, Alaska, on Feb. 1, 2012. Israel Keyes killed Samantha the following day after robbing her and taking her debit card and other belongings. The murderer left her body in a barn and left for New Orleans to go on a two-week cruise with his family in the Gulf of Mexico.
Keyes went back to the Alaskan barn once the cruise was ended and got Samantha’s body. First, he began by donning makeup and painting her eyelashes. He then took a picture of her while placing a four-day-old newspaper next to her.
He sent the photo and a ransom demand of $30,000 to Samantha’s parents. He then dismembered her body and threw the pieces into Lake Matanuska.
Samantha’s devastated family paid the ransom, and Keyes paid with Samantha’s debit card. However, he was eventually tracked down and arrested because he was extremely reckless.
Israel Keyes committed suicide on December 2, 2012, while in custody on suspicion of murder.
Drawing the house
Not surprisingly, disturbing images come to us from wartime and postwar times. In 1948, David “Cheam” Seymour took a photograph, part of whose caption read: “Not all childhood wounds are visible. It will take years to heal the ones created by years of grief.”
The photo was taken at a school for mentally traumatized children in Warsaw. It depicts a girl about eight years old named Tereska. She was doing the teacher’s assignment to draw a house.
Tereska was unable to do this. Instead, she drew a ball of lines. Still keeping one hand on the board, demonstrating her compulsive drawing, the girl looked at the photographer with longing.
When the girl was only four years old, her father was taken to the Gestapo. Tereska and her teenage sister escaped to her grandmother’s house. Then her house was attacked, and they had to flee again, and the old woman briefly returned to the house to retrieve the forgotten object. Unfortunately, she never returned: it is assumed that she was shot or killed by a bomb explosion. Shrapnel hit Tereska, damaging the left side of her brain.
Tereska and her sister Yadzia walked for three weeks through the war zone before finally reaching the village.
The girl’s mental health steadily deteriorated over the years. She spent the rest of her life in an orphanage, dying in 1978.
Photo with Darth Vader
On October 22, 2015, 21-year-old Anton Lundin-Pettersson walked into Krunan School in Trollhättan, Sweden. He was wearing a World War II German helmet, a mask that resembled a Darth Vader mask, and a sword.
He attacked 20-year-old assistant teacher Lavin Eskandar with a sword and wounded 15-year-old schoolboy Ahmed Hassan in the abdomen. Eskandar died at the scene, and Hassan died later in the hospital.
Pettersson then wandered the halls and ran into two high school students who wanted to take pictures with him, thinking he was dressed for a Halloween party.
Shortly after that, Nazir Amso, a 42-year-old teacher, asked Pettersson to remove his mask. The man responded by stabbing him. Amso died after spending six weeks in the hospital.
At that point, police arrived at the school and shot Pettersson, who later died in the hospital. A subsequent investigation revealed that the young man had shouted: “I am your father,” before attacking his victims.
Here is one of the disturbing images from World War I.
There was little reason to smile at that time. Millions of soldiers and civilians died, and those who survived the war suffered from post-traumatic stress, living with missing limbs and grieving for missing loved ones.
In this photograph, taken in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme in September 1916, the photographer captured not only the orderlies tending to the wounded in the trench but also a happy, smiling soldier.
A closer look at the photograph reveals that the soldier, looking directly into the camera, is concussed, and his psyche is shattered as he witnesses the death and destruction around him.
The concept of “concussion” was introduced by psychologist Charles Samuel Myers at the time of the war.
Trapped in mud
Often disturbing images tell us about our time’s little-known and terrible disasters. For example, in 1985, a disaster occurred in the small town of Armero in Colombia: the eruption of a nearby volcano caused a huge, destructive landslide. Preconditions for the impending eruption had been noticed as early as the 1840s, and by September 1985, tremors of such intensity that residents of nearby towns panicked.
On November 13, 1985, the Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupted, causing a landslide. The mud covered at least 85% of Armero, destroying homes, roads, and bridges and trapping residents who tried to flee. Most of the city’s residents, about 25,000 people, died. This meant that only a fifth of the population survived. Several hours passed before rescue efforts began, leaving thousands of people trapped and dreading their eventual death.
Two days after the disaster, photojournalist Frank Fournier arrived in Armero, intending to photograph the rescue operation. Instead, Fournier was shocked by the chaos and the terrifying screams of people on the brink of death. The farmer approached the photographer and took him to a little girl who had been hiding under her house for three days. Thirteen-year-old Omayra Sanchez Garson was up to her neck in water and debris, and rescuers were working nonstop to free her. But, unfortunately, her legs were pinned by something in the water. By the time Fournier approached her, she was already losing consciousness.
When Fournier took Omayra’s picture, she asked him to take her to school. The entire time the volunteers and rescuers attempted to liberate Omayra, Fournier remained by her side. At one point, she asked them to let her rest and say goodbye to her mother.
Omayra died three hours later.
It happens that disturbing images are the only source telling of a terrible disaster. On August 4, 2020, a huge amount of ammonium nitrate improperly stored in the port of Beirut exploded, killing 181 people, injuring at least 6,000, and leaving 300,000 people homeless, while billions of dollars were left unexploded. The explosion was heard in Cyprus and felt in Turkey, Syria, and Israel and is considered one of the most destructive and powerful non-nuclear explosions in history.
A few days after the disaster, a photograph was found on a recovered phone. Sadly, the explosion claimed the life of the photographer.
The image depicts valiant firefighters attempting valiantly to reach Beirut’s warehouse #12 following reports of a fire. A squad of 10 firefighters was dispatched and attempted to enter the warehouse.
Moments later, the warehouse exploded, engulfing all ten of them.
Pogo the Clown
There are few serial killers as frightening as John Wayne Gacy. In 1970s Chicago, he lured 14 young boys and girls into his quiet home and tortured them before killing them in cold blood. He then hid the bodies in a crawlspace under his house – married to his wife and two young children, they were unaware of his horrific crimes.
He got away with murder in the community because everyone loved him. Known as “Pogo the Clown,” he wore full makeup and a clown costume for his performances. He received a fatal injection death sentence in 1994. Before his death, one of his last ominous quotes was, “The dead won’t bother you. You need to worry about life.”
Before the Amityville Horror
Ordinary-looking family photos can also end up being very disturbing images. In 1976, when they took this family photo at their home at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, they did not yet know that it would become one of America’s most talked-about horror stories. Above, the DeFeo children (back row, left to right): John, Allison, Mark. (Front row): Dawn, Ronald “Butch” Jr. The only surviving family member at this time is Butch; their parents, Ronald and Louise, are not visible in the photo.
Butch stormed into a neighborhood bar at 6:30 o’clock, shouting, “You’ve got to help me! My parents probably could have been shot!” By the time the police got to the family’s home, every member had been executed-style shot while they slept. After hours of police interrogation, it was revealed that Butch had shot all his loved ones in cold blood, and he told police, “Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It all happened so fast.” The case has since become known as the Amityville Horror Story.
12 Minutes to the Omaha Bombing
The 1998 Omaha bombing was a terrorist attack in Omaha, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, carried out by the real Irish Republican Army. The bombs killed 29 people and injured over 220. This photo was found from a camera found in the wreckage after the explosion. The bomb that killed the uninvolved victims was carried by the red Vauxhall Cavalier you can see in the background.
Survivor Jolene Jamieson recalled, “I was in the kitchen, and I heard a big explosion. Everything fell on me – cabinets ripped off the wall. The next thing I knew, I was thrown into the street. There was broken glass everywhere, dead bodies…”
Both the child and the gentleman in the photo survived by a miracle.