Vanessa Bryant delivered an emotional testimony Friday that gave an intimate and gut-wrenching look into what she experienced since the deaths of her husband, NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash.
During her nearly three-hour testimony, Vanessa said she felt helpless after learning members of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and other emergency personnel allegedly shared graphic images of Kobe, Gianna, and the seven other victims of the January 2020 accident.
The revelation, she told a Federal Court, has caused her to "live in fear every day of being on social media and having these photos pop up."
Jae C Hong/AP/Shutterstock Vanessa Bryant
"I want to remember my husband and my daughter the way that they were," explained Vanessa, who also shares Capri, 3, Bianka, 5, and Natalia, 19, with Kobe. "I don't ever want to see these photographs. I have three little girls!"
Vanessa is suing Los Angeles County in response to the allegations.
While on the stand, the 40-year-old recalled visiting the Lost Hills Sheriff Station the morning of the accident and asking Sheriff Alex Villanueva to protect the Calabasas crash site from the paparazzi.
Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Vanessa Bryant arrives at Federal Court to testify Friday
"If you can't bring my babies back, can you please secure the area?" Vanessa recalled telling Villanueva at the station.
Just three days later, the photo-sharing allegations amongst the first responders came to light in an article in the Los Angeles Times published on Feb. 27, 2020.
"I trusted them not to do these things," the bereaved mother said during her testimony, adding that she was angry with the sheriff and fire departments for not telling her about the pictures being shared.
Kobe's body was recovered on the day of the crash, while Gianna — a basketball player with the Mamba Sports Academy with dreams of playing in the WNBA — was found a day later in a ravine.
In a moment that saw a wave of emotion wash across those in the courtroom, Vanessa accused emergency personnel who allegedly photographed and shared images showing Gianna's body of "taking advantage that her daddy wasn't there to protect her."
"He was at the morgue," she said.
Vanessa also recalled the day she learned of Kobe and Gianna's deaths, saying she first realized something was wrong around 11:30 that morning when the family's assistant, Kate, repeatedly knocked at their door.
Mike Asner/ @KobeMural/ instagram Mural of Kobe and Gianna Bryant
"She had a really aggressive tone," Bryant explained, adding that she called Kobe but didn't get an answer before letting her in. Once inside, Kate came in and asked where the girls were and asked if anyone else was there. "'I have some news to tell you,' " Vanessa said the assistant told her and it was then that she first learned there had been a helicopter crash. At the time, no one knew if there were survivors.
Vanessa said she called her mother to watch her youngest daughters and took Natalia with her to a local airport, where they attempted to get a helicopter to fly to Calabasas but were unable to due to bad weather. As they made their way to the crash site, Vanessa received phone calls from friends and notifications on her phone that read, "RIP Kobe."
She eventually arrived at the Lost Hills Sheriff Station near the crash site. They were escorted to a small room in the back.
"I walked in and asked where they were. I was repeatedly asking. They just stared at me," she said through tears. 'Where are they? Where are they?' "
In the weeks that followed, Vanessa said she didn't leave her house, opting to "take one day at a time."
She made her first public appearance after the accident during a public memorial for victims of the crash held at Staples Center, now Crypto.com Arena, on Feb. 24, 2020 (2/24). The date was chosen because Gianna wore No. 2 on her basketball jersey, and Kobe wore No. 24 during the latter half of his career.
"I just had to get through 2/24, and then I could finally start the grieving process," Vanessa said.
Vanessa said she had done her best to maintain a "mental toughness." But she has also experienced depression, anxiety, and panic attacks for the first time in her life.
"I never had a panic attack before this," she said, reiterating that the fear of the images being shared publicly has added to her pain. "I don't ever want to see my babies in that way."
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He is suing the county with Vanessa, who did not mince words when asked why she moved forward with the lawsuit.
"I'm willing to go through hell and back," she said during her testimony, "to get justice for my husband and my daughter."
While speaking of Kobe and Gianna, Vanessa said she still says a prayer for the two every night.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty
"As a mom, all you want to do is protect your babies," she said.
Vanessa said Gianna had "the kindest heart" and is still "my sunshine."
"[Gianna] was competitive, funny, and thoughtful," she explained. "She was a daddy's girl."
Vanessa also said Kobe relished his role as a father to their daughters, and his famously competitive persona was left at the door whenever he returned home.
"He was this well-known and beloved icon to some people, but at home, he was just Kobe, just daddy," Vanessa recalled. "He knew he didn't rule the household. He was outnumbered. He was like, 'I'm happy taking care of business on the court. You run the house.'"
When asked if Kobe was her best friend, Vanessa replied, "He is still my best friend."