Originally published April 17, 2013 at 1:41 p.m., updated April 19, 2013 at 5:48 p.m.
Thousands of spectators, with phones and iPads in hand, lined the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Federal officials say they used the photos, videos and surveillance footage from nearby establishments to hunt down the suspects of the bombing.
Federal officials are scouring through thousands of eyewitness videos and photos of the Boston Marathon to use as evidence in the deadly attack. A San Diego Homeland Security expert said the era of the iPhone is changing how crimes are investigated.
"When you’re at something like a finish line of the race, people aren’t just standing there watching, they’re standing there now with a phone. 'I’m waiting for my person to come across,' and it’s — click, click, click,” explained Eric Frost, co-director of San Diego State University's Homeland Security graduate program and director of the Viz Center.
Frost said the newest and best forensic evidence is generated by social media because every picture, video and social media entry has a time stamp and location.
Frost said the data is invaluable.
"Somebody on the opposite side of the bomb, taking a picture of a racer coming across, whoever put the bomb there had to have had their picture taken," Frost said.
Frost said the massive data set of thousands of videos and images is compiled together to create a detailed, three-dimensional visualization to capture the scene second by second.
He said officials were able to pinpoint, for example, a person holding a backpack, and another image minutes later, of the person without his backpack.
Every one of those pictures of a marathon racer has somebody behind it, and there are people on both sides, said Frost.
"A picture of something equals a capturing of something in time and that’s what they’re trying to do is look back in time to see something," he added.
Frost said his team is helping officials with the data, but couldn't give specific information about their involvement.
"Those things are really wiser to have quiet," he said. "So that’s what we do here at the Viz Center. We are quiet people in the background helping."
Frost said his team is most fruitful without being in the limelight.
The Viz Center has used the technology to create imagery for several recent disasters, including the Colorado wildfires, Japan earthquake and tsunami, Haiti earthquake and the gulf oil spill.