Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The face of tragedy

On Wednesday morning in Virginia, a TV reporter and cameraman were shot dead, and their interview subject shot in the back, during a live telecast. The suspect, who was caught on camera and even filmed his ambush himself, was a disgruntled former employee of the station who allegedly held grudges against both of the people he killed. He then committed suicide, but not before posting about the killings (and sharing his horrible footage) on social media.

As a journalist myself, I skew toward the idea that if something is known, that it should get reported — and that if video footage exists, it should be available (though I understand if edited versions suit wider audiences better). Often after tragedies, people with very good hearts often don’t want to hear about the killer, or see anything that reminds them of the crime. I understand why. News is not always pleasant, and sometimes is not even in the same universe as something you want to witness. But it’s still news.

My stomach for news is probably steelier than most people’s. After all my years in the biz, it takes a lot to truly rattle me.

These videos did.

Not because they were journalists (though Alison Parker and Adam Ward remind me of many friends and colleagues), or because I in any way trivialize any other bloodshed. It had a little to do with watching the footage and realizing how quickly life can end at the barrel of a gun in even the most bucolic circumstances. Knowing that two of the three people in the light newscast are about to die, and the third about to be injured and undoubtedly traumatized for life, is pretty hard to take. Seeing the same ambush from the killer’s vantage is even more sinister.

But mostly, what burned into my cortex was seeing Parker’s reaction as she was shot. It’s caught in the news footage for just a split-second, but trust me, that’s enough. She goes from a cheerful mid-sentence smile to a wide-eyed look of confusion, shock and terror in an instant, likely never processing what happened before it took its full, fatal toll. It’s not just an expression of, “I’m shot,” but also, “Why the — ”

As if we weren’t already wondering the same thing with so many shootings happening lately. It’s one thing to know this is happening and mourn the victims. It’s another level to see it unfold live, putting the most horrified face of all to the hell of such a crime. To know that this shock has been on all too many innocent faces.

Twelve hours after watching the video once, I haven’t been able to get her expression out of my mind. I might never.

Take my word for it. Please.

And for those you who have a beef of some sort — it’s not worth it. Get help. Problems get solved. Grudges do nothing. Violence solves nothing.

Take my word for it. Please.

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