LONDON — Residents who live near Grenfell Tower in London have expressed heartbreak and outrage after spotting visitors taking selfies at the site of last week’s deadly fire.
Signs have been erected near the site pleading with visitors to “stop taking pictures please” and “stop taking selfies.”
“Not a tourist attraction,” other signs proclaim. It’s not clear who created the signs or when they were first posted. The signs also don’t appear to be created by the same person.
Natasha Gordon, a London resident who said her family and friends lived in the tower, said she has seen visitors take photos in front of the tower’s charred remains.
“There have been loads [of people],” she told CNN. “People taking this as a party, disrespectfully coming to take photos without even so much as leaving flowers or a card.”
Wayne Kilo Lewis is another London resident who lived near Grenfell Tower for 28 years and said he lost several friends in the fire.
“It was such a disgrace to see people taking selfies with the tower behind them, thinking it was OK to do that in front of residents and people who lost their loved ones in the fire,” he told CNN. “It broke my heart to see people all dressed up like it was (the Notting Hill) Carnival and guys trying to get girls’ phone numbers.”
Not a new trend
The act of taking selfies at disaster sites is not a new one.
Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice, a small Italian town, spoke out in April after visitors were spotted taking selfies in the area after an earthquake killed nearly 300 people and destroyed historic landmarks.
In 2015, several tourists in New York were criticized online after taking smiling selfies at the site of an explosion in East Village that killed two.
And in 2014, a teenage girl from Alabama was publicly shamed after posting a selfie at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, a labor camp where an estimated 1.1 million people were killed during the Holocaust.
The perils of the ‘disaster selfie’
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a psychology professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the growing “disaster selfie” trend showcases the increasing value society places on social media.
“Putting your face in front of a disaster scene adds a different dimension to the incident,” she said. “Then it’s not coping, it’s just self-promotion. You’re hoping to get attention or comments on your photos.
“It’s one thing to honor and respect the drama and suffering that people have gone through, and it’s another to cross that line. There’s always been a tendency to make yourself part of the action and show you were there.”
By posting signs condemning the selfies and confronting visitors, Whitbourne said residents could “help define a new norm” that will make clear this type of behavior is unacceptable and not tolerated.
A rising toll
At least 79 people have been declared or presumed dead after the inferno blazed through Grenfell Tower on June 14. Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said Monday the death toll may change.
Only five victims have been identified so far.
Seventeen people are still being treated in London hospitals, nine of whom remain in critical condition, the UK Press Association reported Monday.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. British Prime Minister Teresa May announced last week the government would open a public inquiry into the disaster and the police have opened a criminal investigation.