Catching up with the Vancouver Stanley Cup riot ‘kissing couple,’ 10 years later

In the last few days, a photo of a couple kissing after the Vancouver Stanley Cup riot in the summer of 2011 has caused some controversy online. The couple in the photo, who went on to have a baby, had been called out by many on social media for taking part in the riot.

On the night of June 15, 2003, Vancouver residents awoke to the sound of sirens, the smell of burning rubber, and the sight of a few hundred rioters running riot on the city’s streets. The rioters were following in the footsteps of the Stanley Cup riot, which had taken place the year before, and the rioters were using the same crowd-pleasing tactics of kissing, hugging, and throwing bottles of beer at riot police.

The Vancouver Stanley Cup riot of 2003 was one of the largest riots in Canada’s history. The riot broke out after the Vancouver Canucks knocked off the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the Stanley Cup Final. Rioters looted local stores and burned cars and stores. The riot was sparked by the Canucks losing the Stanley Cup to the Mighty Ducks. In the end, 20 people were arrested and hundreds were injured.

Alex Thomas and Scott Jones remember being knocked down by protective shields after falling on the sidewalk on Seymour Street in Vancouver. It was June 2011, minutes after the Canucks lost Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins at home. The city was on fire. Thomas recalls shaking with fear as the officers trampled him while he lay on the ground, trying to clear the street until the officers stopped to join their formation that was moving to the next block. Jones remembers looking at Thomas, seeing that his girlfriend was hysterical as they lay in the street and realizing that he had to calm her down somehow. And he kissed her. Photojournalist Richard Lam recalls seeing Thomas and Jones and being drawn to the strangeness of the image: Empty on a normally busy street, except for a couple kissing and police in riot gear walking away from them. Tenderness of the moment, love preserved in the midst of chaos. What happened next is something none of the three will ever forget. The photo of Jones kissing Thomas went around the world and became the epitome of the riot in Vancouver on the 15th. June 2011. The media is going wild to discover the identity of the couple. Allegations that the photo was staged. Horror stories about Thomas and Jones circulated on the internet until they had to appear on international television to tell the real story. They remember the momentary glory and shame. Thomas and Jones are reminiscing together 10 years later, having built a happy life in Perth, Australia, with an adorable three-year-old daughter named Amy. Right: The couple who kissed during the Vancouver riots are still a couple. Since then, we’ve made great efforts to build our lives together. That’s only part of the story, Thomas said. We didn’t know what it meant to go viral or anything like that. It was a little strange that people were interested. word-image-5565


Looking back, the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals series between the Bruins and Canucks could only end in self-destruction. It was seven matches of pure chaotic energy, between two teams that fought immediately and intensely. Vancouver’s Alexander Burrows bit the finger of Boston’s center Patrice Bergeron in Game 1, prompting Boston’s forward Milan Lucic to offer Burrows his bare hand as an appetizer in Game 3. Also in Game 3, Boston’s Nathan Horton was carried off on a stretcher after being hit by Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome, who was suspended for the rest of the final. Boston will need to win this game and game four to even the series. After Game 5, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo criticized Boston goalie Tim Thomas’ play and complained that Thomas didn’t flatter him enough through the media. Thomas and the Bruins won Game 6 at home and faced Game 7 in Vancouver, where a grueling and physical series ended 4-0 in favor of the Bruins. Scott Jones and Alex Thomas watched the game at a friend’s house in downtown Vancouver. Thomas is originally from Vancouver. Jones was born in Australia, where the couple plans to move a few weeks after the series ends. He lived and worked in Vancouver for six months. Towards the end of Game 7, reports of vandalism and looting began to arrive in the city. For Vancouver, it was déjà vu: The last time the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup final – to the New York Rangers in 1994 – damage to downtown businesses from destruction and theft exceeded 1.1 million Canadian dollars. 2 Connected Even before the game was over, there were reports of burning cars and the like. Being a bit of a tourist, I thought it would be a good idea to check it out. How? We’ll never see that again, Jones said. They didn’t realize how quickly the chaos would escalate. Police cordoned off the entire area and began clearing the streets with tear gas and shooting people. So we ended up on the ground when they cleared one of the streets we were on, Jones said. A row of policemen knocked us down, and then two [policemen] with shields came and kicked us and tried to get us away. Then they realized they were behind and moved on. So we stay in the middle of the road. Thomas said she got caught because she wasn’t running fast enough. It hit the ground hard. There was blood on her clothes, but she said she had no major injuries. Just scratching from the middle of the road. Scraped knees. Bruises that were more emotional [than anything else]. According to her, the physical trauma that can occur. I didn’t expect riot police and so much on the road. Scott convinced me to go, and I don’t think I realized how seriously it was going to be taken, because there was a riot act declared and what that meant. It was something I had never experienced before. Thomas trembled, both from fear and the adrenaline rush. Jones kissed her to reassure her. She wrapped her arm around his neck, their legs intertwined. The riot police removed themselves in the direction of the foggy street lights. Rich Lamb saw it all through the lens of his camera. Since then, we’ve made great efforts to build our lives together. That’s just part of the story, Alex Thomas said of the famous photo. Rich Lam/Getty Images Lam is a freelance photojournalist. He covered the seventh game for Getty Images. After the post-game press conferences, he rushed to the streets to capture the madness of the streets. A passerby said the Hudson’s Bay department store in downtown Vancouver – as iconic as Macy’s in New York’s Herald Square – was on fire, so he went there. The police line up and get ready to disperse the crowd. It was like running with the bulls – you just have to run, Lam said. And it was a long day. I wasn’t trying to be a hero. It was a hockey riot, after all. So I ran to the right. After the second charge, I found myself on Seymour Street, where the couple had landed. It is traditionally a very busy street. Looking back, I realize it was very strange to see only two people on the ground and no one around. It has become an interesting environment. He began taking pictures while Jones comforted Thomas. Lam then decided to do something that would make his photo iconic: He placed the couple in the center of the image in focus and placed the policeman in riot gear with his baton in the foreground out of focus. In this city, one day such an event happens and the next day there is always a story about police brutality. That’s when I stepped in and put a police officer in the picture, Lam said. Here, a man comforts another man who is injured. There’s the cop. They enter into a partnership. That was my first theory about photography. word-image-15325 Post-game analysis and broadcast every night of the season by Barry Melrose and Linda Cohn. Watch ESPN+ When the police left, there was a strange silence around Thomas and Jones. There was no sense of urgency. For example, where are you going? There was a strange emptiness in the room. I had no support. And everything was closed. It’s not the same as going to a store or a restaurant. What should we do? So we sat there for a while. Eventually they got up and started looking for a SkyTrain station, but all the stations that came their way were closed. By the time they found the one that was open, they were halfway home. Lam returned to the arena around midnight and looked at his shots. He took three pictures of Jones and Thomas kissing. You want the truth? When I saw this, I thought: It’s pretty awesome, but I hadn’t eaten in 12 hours and I was more worried about what would be available to eat, Lam said. It wasn’t until I was about to leave that another photographer told me it was a really cool photo. Lam didn’t realize there was anything special about the photo until the next morning, when a phone call woke him up at 7am. The photo went viral. Like a super virus. For example, the global virus. I just thought, holy shit, he said.


As the city began cleaning up the estimated C$5 million in riot damage, Jones woke up to a text message from a friend who was at the Game 7 party they were attending. She asked if that was Jones and Thomas in the picture. What photo? He remembers. At first he thought she would ask him about the picture she had taken at the party. But she tagged him on Facebook with a photo of the pair kissing on the street the night before. I said: Alex, look at this. At that point, no one was talking about it. It was just another photo of the riot scene, right? Jones said. The first call from the news station came a few hours later. Then one more. One more thing. Jones quickly pulled out his phone. According to Lam, the Getty Images director called him to verify the authenticity of the photo and make sure it wasn’t staged. He sent them all the photos he had taken for the couple, and Getty published a series of photos alongside the one released on the night of Game 7. I think that’s how [Jones] was identified. There was a picture of him looking up after kissing her. So his sister saw him in Australia, called someone and said: That’s my brother in the picture, Lamb recalls. The damage from the 2011 Vancouver riots is estimated at $5 million (CAD). Elsa/Getty Images While they slept, the photo made headlines in their country. Jones said his sister gave his phone number to a media outlet in Australia. In a way, everyone had my number now, he said. Suddenly, the couple became a media obsession. Esquire called the photo love in turmoil. The Sun (UK) newspaper headlined A couple have sex during a hockey riot. One Twitter account was dedicated to photoshopped memes of the kissing couple amid other disasters, such as the crash of the Hindenburg. People wanted to know who they were. Why did they kiss? How they ended up on the street. It seemed like everyone in Vancouver was trying to find her. I don’t think any of us used to be very media savvy, Thomas said. It was a little overwhelming. We didn’t know how to handle it, Jones said. Yeah, like what happens when you take a viral photo? Does the media eventually go away and let you move on with your life, or does it keep calling and showing up at your door? They needed advice. So Thomas’ father turned to someone he thought could give him advice on how to deal with the media: Rich Lamb. The photographer and the couple met at a café outside the city. I gotta tell you, it’s so unrealistic, Lam said. When you work in the news business, you film demonstrations and marches, by strangers. It’s disappearing. You take them down, you sue them, and you never see these people again in your life. It was really nice to talk to them. You’re very kind. You’re very kind. word-image-15326 A panel of NHL players, coaches, general managers and other front office personnel evaluated the top players at each position: – CentreForwardsDefenceGoalkeepers Lamb recalls that they seemed stunned by the attention. I told them it wasn’t a bad story and they hadn’t done anything wrong. I could hear the fear and indecision in their voices as everyone searched for them. The CB building’s been torched. The Vancouver Sun newspaper building was shot at. Everyone in town was looking for them, he said. I acted as normally and humanely as I could to them and helped them. That’s it. Here are your options. His advice: Give a couple of interviews on national television, one in Canada and one in Australia, and that’s it. He said it was better to give the dog a bone. If not, they will continue to haunt you, Thomas said. The Australian was created in an unusual way: Lamb was announced for the show and had to leave an hour before the broadcast due to a conflict. The producers were upset. He told them he already had a replacement – the husbands themselves. They were interviewed by CBC News Canada and appeared in the media for the third time: The TODAY show in the United States. We didn’t do much press. It was a few days before we left for California and then Melbourne. We wanted to tell our side of the story, Jones said. They thought it was important. After all, it was their story and they wanted to take control of it. Because when you become a viral sensation, a lot of other people make up their own dirty stories about you, as Jones and Thomas unfortunately discovered.


Jones remembers coming out of a television interview and feeling like everyone recognized her. According to him, it was weird to go out in public. Some did, like when the couple went to California. The woman handling the luggage at the airport recognized us. Another guy came up to us in a bar in San Diego and said: That’s you in the picture. You don’t know how many people recognized us, but they were the ones who stood up and said something, Jones said. There were people Jones and Thomas had never met and didn’t want to meet. Speculative media. Trolls and gossip on the internet. For example, those who actively sought to discredit the authenticity of the image. Even now, people think the photo is fake. Occasionally it pops up and you see comments from people like: Oh, it’s staged or photoshopped or some other nonsense, Jones said. Lamb also faced these accusations and took them to heart. I personally find it very frustrating when people say it’s not true. I know there are trolls everywhere, but questioning my integrity in reporting and counting….. I had to stop reading, he said. The people said: Oh, they planned it. And I’m asking: Who plans this during the riots? play 0:44 Alex Thomas and Scott Jones, better known as the couple who kissed in Game 7 in Vancouver, explain how people still mistakenly believe their kissing photo was staged a decade ago. Luckily for Lam, he had a way to prove that the photo wasn’t staged at all, even if it was a little before videos went viral on social media in times like these. Laura Trillitsch, a photographer, filmed with her cell phone the police officers walking down Seymour Street, beating and kicking the couple to get them away. For Jones and Thomas, the allegations of false photos were secondary to what they read about themselves on the Internet. The media also made up stories about what happened to us, Jones said. That she was stabbed. That I wasn’t her boyfriend. That she was raped afterwards. All kinds of things. A writer for The Post Game, for example, tweeted that the kiss resembled something sinister. How do you know if a girl is alert and ready? Just terrible things that weren’t true at all, Thomas said. It’s awkward and uncomfortable to read. People will just make up a story if they have no history of what happened. But the intensity of viral fame quickly dissipates. Thomas estimates it took three weeks. It was scary for me, and I almost got hurt, she says. I felt rather put off by it. It’s an interesting thing that happened.


Jones and Thomas now live with their daughter in Perth. They opened a bar called Beerpourium, which serves Australian beers. It opened six months before the COVID-19 pandemic, but Jones says things are going well. They have two copies of the photo signed by Lam and hung in plain sight. One is in his house. The other is in the bar. A lot of people have seen the picture, but they don’t know it’s me, Jones said. Many of my colleagues find it amusing. This is my interview from 10 years ago, so I look very young. Most people think it’s cool. Thomas, who is also a senior project engineer at Water Corporation, responds when people find out about their viral image story. It’s a little weird for me because it’s not really an appropriate photo for the job, she said. From time to time, someone calls it. It’s an office circus. Hey, did you know she was the one? They’re taking it to the cafeteria. This photo has also popped up in pop culture several times over the past decade. The image was used as the cover of Placebo’s 20th anniversary retrospective album, A Place for Us to Dream, in 2016, and the band sent the couple an autographed copy. He also appeared in the credits of the movie Modern Love on Amazon Prime. Lam said the license for the image is administered by Getty. For the couple, it’s a moment in their lives frozen in time, and for Thomas’ hometown, it’s a moment they still can’t understand. That’s where I grew up. I couldn’t have even imagined that something of this magnitude and severity could happen, that people would have such a mob mentality, with looting [that could happen]. I mean, it wasn’t so much violence against other people, but it was violence against the whole city, with that mob mentality. That’s something I never experienced when I lived in Vancouver, that’s for sure. After talking to people who live in Vancouver, this is kind of a tragedy for the city, Jones said. Lamb was tackled by three colleagues that night, and after Game 7, he first had someone with him to watch his back while he recorded the chaos. It was his first rebellion, and I told him: I think you’d better go home, he replied. Ten years later, Lam considers himself lucky to have made this recording, despite the danger involved. Personally and professionally, I was very pleased with this photo. I was the only one who understood, and I had colleagues around me. What’s so special about this well-attended event, he said, is that no one else has a photo like this. In this day and age where everyone has a camera, it’s rare to do something so unique at an event like this. I have pictures of riots that look like other pictures of riots. In the end, everything looks the same. I’m really happy and honored to have been able to capture something like this.

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