The tragic incident occurred in January 2020 and also killed seven other victims — all of whom were traveling to a basketball game.
Vanessa — who is suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for emotional distress and negligence, among other harms — revealed during a deposition that before anyone had personally informed her about the deaths of her family members, she’d first learned of the news from social media notifications.
Vanessa filed the lawsuit in September last year after it was reported that first responders allegedly shared unauthorized and disturbing pictures of the human remains at the crash site. In a response to the lawsuit filed back in May, the county's lawyers maintained that the photographs “were not given to the media and were not posted on the internet.”
Last Tuesday, Vanessa gave emotional testimony in a Zoom conference as part of a new deposition filed for the case, where she recalled the moment she first learned of the fatal helicopter crash. A transcript of her words has been obtained by the New York Times.
Recounting the morning of the crash, Vanessa said that their family assistant was the first to let her know that there’d been an “accident” with five survivors. The assistant had no news on Kobe and Gianna’s conditions and had informed Vanessa of the accident at around 11:30 a.m. — which was around the same time that TMZ publicly broke the news of Kobe’s death.
“[Our assistant] told me that there was an accident and that there were five survivors,” Vanessa said. “And I asked her if Gianna and Kobe were okay. And she said she wasn’t sure. She didn’t know.”
Vanessa said she then tried calling her husband and afterward called her mom. She said, “I called my mom and I asked her to spot me with my daughters Bianca and Capris [now aged 4 and 2]. I told her I needed her to get to the house. I needed to get to LA.”
“As soon as I was on the phone with my mom, I was holding onto my phone, because obviously I was trying to call my husband back, and all these notifications started popping up on my phone, saying, ‘RIP Kobe. RIP Kobe. RIP Kobe,’” she revealed.
Vanessa then detailed driving to pick up her daughter Natalia, who is now aged 18, from an ACT class. She said, “I picked [Natalia] up and I told her that Daddy and Gigi were in an accident. Not to worry. ‘I’m sure they’re fine because there’s five survivors. And I’m sure Daddy and Gigi are fine.’”
Vanessa — whose family home is in Orange County — alleged that the authorities wouldn't give her any further information over the phone, telling her that she’d have to drive to the closest police station to the crash site, which was an hour and a half away in Malibu.
The 39-year-old detailed her stressful experience getting to the police station, which involved being refused a helicopter to fly to the site due to bad weather conditions. After a great deal of back and forth, Vanessa said that Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka drove her and Natalia to the station.
Vanessa said that after arriving at the police station at around 1:30 p.m., she and Natalia waited for an update on Kobe and Gianna. Eventually, she said that Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva informed her of the tragic news that both had died.
Fearful that fans, drones, or helicopters would take pictures of her husband and daughter, Vanessa recalled telling the sheriff, “If you can't bring my husband and baby back, please make sure no one takes photographs of them. Please secure the area.”
Vanessa said that the sheriff told her, “All is good. The area is secure. There's an umbrella over the area.”
Elsewhere during the deposition, an attorney representing Los Angeles County asked Vanessa to define what “emotional distress” meant to her as well as recall in detail whether she’d seen any of the graphic photographs that were taken following the crash.
“Emotional distress means that not only do I have to grieve to the loss of my husband and child, but for the rest of my life I’m going to have to fear that these photographs of my husband and child will be leaked,” she said.
“I do not want my little girls or I to ever have to see their remains in that matter,” she continued. “Nor do I think it’s right that the photographs were taken in the first place because it’s already tough enough that I have to experience this heartache and this loss.”
The attorney — who repeatedly questioned which photographs she’d seen — told Vanessa, “It's not harassment. It's just a lawsuit. And I'm so sorry to put you through this, but like I said at the beginning, I've got to do my job.”
Vanessa responded, “I don’t want to talk about this. I shouldn’t be talking about this. If there weren’t any photographs to begin with, I wouldn’t be here today.”
According to E! News, the attorney also asked Vanessa — who confirmed that she personally has not seen any photos of her husband's and daughter's remains — to look at graphic images that had been sent to her on social media in an attempt to argue that it hadn’t just been the sheriff's deputies that had caused her emotional distress. The transcript said that Vanessa covered the camera with her hand and said she didn’t want to look.
Vanessa went on to share that she “had to recover” the clothes and other items that Kobe and Gianna were wearing during the crash, as she wouldn’t want anyone to be able to “take pictures of them and share them.”
“[Kobe and Gianna] suffered a lot," she said. “And if their clothes represent the condition of their bodies, I cannot imagine how someone could be callous and have no regard for them or our friends, and just share the images as if they were animals on a street.”
Later on during the deposition, Vanessa was asked if she is seeking monetary damages in her lawsuit, to which she responded, “That's up to the jury” before detailing that she’s seeking “accountability.”
“I don’t think it’s fair that I’m here today having to fight for accountability,” she said. “Because no one should ever have to endure this type of pain and fear of their family members. The pictures getting released, this is not okay.”
Last year, Vanessa opened up about having to block fan accounts on social media after her explore page was flooded with pictures of Kobe and Gianna.
Both Vanessa and her daughter Natalia switched their accounts to private shortly after the tragic deaths and shared similar messages in June explaining their decisions to block numerous fan accounts.
“@NataliaBryant and I have unfortunately had to block fan pages because it's been really hard to go online and constantly see pics of our beloved Gigi and Kobe under every single square of our explore pages,” Vanessa shared on Instagram. “Blocking the fan pages has helped change the algorithm.”
Natalia shared a similar message, writing, “Thank you all so much for all the love and support. Many of you may have noticed the recent switch to a private account. My mom and I have had to unfortunately block fan pages because they keep reposting our pics. This makes it 10x harder to deal with our loss.”
“We hope that people understand that although these fan pages have good intentions, they make moving forward harder since they are constant reminders,” she continued.
“Blocking the accounts have helped change the algorithm but we cannot go public until the fan pages stop,” she added. “We love all of your sweet intentions and we hope you understand.”