17 Nov

Eighty-four Year Old Woman Pepper Sprayed by Seattle Police


The telephones in‘s newsroom are ringing like crazy today. That’s not uncommon in a newsroom, but there’s something different about today’s calls. More often than not, you’ll pick up the phone and hear something like this: “I wanted to ask about the pepper-spray picture.”

Here’s the photograph they’re asking about.

dorli rainey pepper sprayed


The photo was taken Tuesday evening by photographer Joshua Trujillo at an Occupy Seattle protest at Westlake Park. The elderly woman featured in the photo was pepper sprayed by police just moments before.

Her name is Dorli Rainey, and she’s 84 years old.

Rainey was participating in a march that spilled out into the downtown streets Tuesday. When police showed up to control the crowd, she was on the front lines.

The picture, showing Rainey’s face streaked with pepper spray, tears and a milky solution used to combat the spray, has connected with readers and bloggers across the country.

The Atlantic Wire called it a “defining image.” The Washington Post likened it to John Filo’s Pulitzer-winning picture of the 1970 massacre at Kent State, saying “Although there have been many striking images of violence and peace in Occupy encampments, and many faces of the movement, none may be as immediately striking as this image of Dorli Rainey, taken by Joshua Trujillo.”

“Rainey’s direct gaze at the camera as her face drips with pepper spray is a haunting, cinematic image of brutality,” writes the Post’s Maura Judkis.

Joshua Trujillo

So, how did the photo happened? I talked with Trujillo about capturing the iconic image, and he said it all started when he saw something unusual happening out of the corner of his eye.

“I walked up right when the spraying starting, and probably within, I’d say, five or 10 minutes of my arriving was when I saw her being rushed away,” Trujillo said. “I did not see her get the spray, I did not see the officer spraying her. But I saw the immediate aftermath within a second or two of it happening.”

He started taking pictures, thinking it was unusual to see a woman her age at a protest.

“She had her head down, and I could see the spray all over her face,” he said. “Then she lifted her head up and someone splashed another white liquid in her face, forcing her eyes open.”

That’s when Trujillo and Rainey made eye contact through his camera — and when the photo happened.

“I recognized the moment as being something unique,” Trujillo said. “Photojournalists by nature go after the things that are unique, odd or extreme. Those are the things that affect people.”

He added: “In all my years in this profession, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Later, he saw Rainey smiling and thought she appeared to be recovering. Trujillo also came in contact with pepper spray while covering the protest — it’s the second time time in a month he’s been exposed to the substance at Occupy Seattle protests.

“It’s painful, but it washes out,” he said.

Rainey told the The Associated Press she’s “pretty tough” for an 84-year-old woman.

“It’s a gruesome picture, I’m really not that bad looking,” Rainey told the AP.

A former schoolteacher, Rainey is known around town as an activist and one-time mayoral candidate. She blogs at

Here’s where you can see more of Trujillo’s photos from Tuesday’s protest.

Visit’s home page for more Seattle news. Contact Amy Rolph at or on Twitter as @amyrolph and @bigblog.


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