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AWOL weapons: ’Explosive’ investigation of missing military ordnance

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Video journalist Kristin M. Hall, global investigative journalists Justin Pritchard and James LaPorta, and data editor Justin Myers expanded AP’s “AWOL Weapons” investigation, revealing how explosives are lost or stolen from the U.S. armed services, sometimes with deadly consequences.

When AP reported in June that the U.S. military couldn’t account for all its firearms, the team knew there was more to uncover. Their latest installment reports that hundreds (if not thousands) of armor-piercing grenades and hundreds of pounds of plastic explosives also vanished.

AP’s investigation was built on data that Hall, Pritchard and LaPorta extracted from the military, and which Myers marshaled for analysis. LaPorta filed the original Freedom of Information Act request with the Marines, obtaining data on explosives that was crucial to framing the scope of the problem, while Hall and Pritchard used exclusive investigative case files to detail how troops stole plastic explosives. At one major Marine base a sergeant hoarded 13 pounds of C4 because he feared Donald Trump would lose; after another insider theft, explosives ended up with high school kids.

Juggling other demands, Hall found a man who survived the explosion of an artillery shell at the Mississippi recycling yard where he worked. His co-worker died. That emotional interview alone drew more than 56,000 Twitter views. Combined with exclusive interrogation footage of Marines, video journalists Serginho Roosblad and Jeannie Ohm wove together a compelling video package using interviews by colleagues Stacey Plaisance and Robert Bumsted. Senior researcher Jennifer Farrar also contributed.

The online presentation by Raghu Vadarevu, Natalie Castañeda and Peter Hamlin took the distinctive visual language they previously developed for the series and gave it even more impact. Castañeda also edited the photos. Thanks also to the expert wordsmithing of editor Jerry Schwartz and a well-conceived social media plan by audience engagement specialist Elise Ryan, the package scored over 130,000 views on AP News, more than double other top stories, including the omicron variant, the Supreme Court hearing arguments on the Mississippi abortion law, and the Michigan school shooting.

The story generated buzz. Politico’s “Playbook” called it “a distressing new installment” and Muckrack a “blockbuster investigation.” Stars and Stripes featured the package on its website and the front page of the print edition, and CNBC’s Shepard Smith interviewed Hall in a major segment around AP’s investigation.

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