As a journalist I often ask people to open up with me and to be honest about their emotions during tragic events. You should expect openess and honesty from me…so here is my story if you’re interested. And please excuse spelling and grammar….it’s been a long few days!
The first hour – Shocked & Worried
I was watching the Dark Knight Rises in a different theater when news of the shooting came down.
“10 people dead,” the text message read on my buddy’s phone. He also works in TV news and the look on his face was intense. “I gotta go and you know you gotta go too,” he said.
We both left without finishing the movie. I looked at my phone. “Call, me. It’s an emergency,” a text message from my boss said. My station was trying to reach me too.
As we ran out of the theater on the 16th Street Mall together we immediately saw numerous Denver police officers. It was quite clear they were there just in case the incident would be connected to other theaters.
Something big was happening. Something was not right. It was at this moment the energy around me was starting to feel really bad and I began to worry. I didn’t like the feeling.
I took a cab to my apartment. On the cabbie’s computer screen flashed an alert from his company announcing a theater shooter was still out there and possibly shooting other people.
My god, I thought. My eyes began to dart along the road looking for anything serioius.
Now I’ve seen a lot of bad things up close. I’ve knocked on doors in dangerous neighborhoods and confronted some really bad guys. This was the first time I felt scared and worried in a long time. I can’t remember the last time I felt that way when heading into work. It’s been years.
I got home quickly. The cabbie wouldn’t let me pay. Free ride. I thought that was cool.
Within 15 seconds I ran into my apartment, grabbed my 9News shirt. I then ran out and drove to the station.
Once I ran into the newsroom, it was chaos. The radio scanner was blaring. The assignment editors were running around and the phones were non-stop.
I put emotion aside, swallowed my anxiousness and fear and headed out the door with a camera.
This is what I call Robot Time. It’s the moment when a journalist goes to work. No time to think about feelings or worry.
Sometimes the switch flips a little too quickly and I can get in a stoic mode pretty fast during tragedies. Sadly, I’ve had too much practice and experience. My colleagues reading this know how this feels.
My first encounter – Two Witnesses
I met two young men at their home near the theater. Here’s the video of the interview I recorded that ended up going pretty viral.
These young men were open and honest. I could tell they were rattled up. Just before the interview, they were pacing in the kitchen. I felt bad for them. While their demeanor was calm, I could see on their faces their minds were trying to process what’s going on.
They called my station wanting to share their story. I’m guessing that was their way of sharing it….getting it out in the open. I’m happy they trusted us with their story.
Today, I hope they’re doing okay now.
The suspect’s Apartment – Evacuees and Intense Work
At around 3 am, at the suspect’s apartment, I found about 10-15 people who were standing on the street corner with confused looks on their faces.
Some were in pajamas. One woman’s hair was still wet from a shower. Another woman had her children in strollers with bed- head. I wondered if they knew what was going on. Nobody explained anything thing to them. They looked lost.
“All they told me is that there could be explosives in an unit,” one woman said when describing how police knocked on her door.
As I began to tell the small group the news, they crowded around me a bit. The looks on their faces reflected genuine shock and concern when I told them how many people were killed…and how many were sent to the hospital.
I spent the remainder of my time at the apartment complex. I did numerous live hits for NPR, BBC, radio stations in Canada, MSNBC, and CNBC. The appettite for information was phenomenal and I tried my best to share the news and the info I was getting with as many people as possible.
I know what it’s like to feel pressure for information and to try and get someone on air, so I did my best to help my colleagues out.
When working in conditions like that, you often forget to take care of yourself. I didn’t really eat much and I forgot to put on suncreen. My face burned. I worked for so long, viewers noticed my 5 o’clock shadow at 10pm. One viewer wrote my boss saying I needed to shave. Putting a razor on my face wasn’t really a priority. Don’t really have time.
Saturday – a quick break for a beer & depression
The next day after some rest, I spent another day at the suspect’s apartment.
After my 5pm liveshot, I reluctantly went to a TV news awards ceremony. I debated with myself weather it was appropriate to go to such an event considering the tragedy in our community.
The event organizers didn’t cancel it because it was just simply impossible…people made plans to come out of town and the venue was too big, I think the event website said. I don’t blame them.
So I went.
I couldn’t get into a very festive mood. I could tell there was a somber energy among many of my colleagues too. People put on smiles anyway, but the sound of applause during award announcements was remarkably subdued.
After the ceremony I went home EXAUSTED but I didn’t feel like being alone. My wife hasn’t moved to Denver yet and I had to get out of my apartment.
Honestly, I was feeling very down despite some very good news that came out of the awards ceremony. Very down. I didn’t like the heavy feeling.
People may question whether journalist can feel sadness when covering events. After all, we are not first responders and don’t experience things like police and paramedics do. We are often viewed as robots who show up to exploit victims for the sake of a 15 second soundbite. I’m sorry if you view the media this way….I don’t blame you if you do.
We do meet victims and witnesses face to face. We get attached to stories. In our ear pieces, we hear non-stop soundbites, news conference audio and we get intimately involved with every little fact. We know the story inside and out. We know names, we know faces and we are surrounded by the reality of it all, non stop. There’s no time to process information for ourselves and to reflect. We have deadlines and they are important for people who are counting on us to bring them information.
Sometimes we don’t come to terms with the reality of it all until we are home alone and there is a bit of silence to think. I didn’t break down or anything like that. But on Saturday night in my kitchen alone, I felt heavyness in my soul and I left my quiet place to escape it.
I walked towards downtown to force myself to go out and try to be normal. I thought that was important. I figured if I could get out and be among people, I would feel a little bit better.
While my experience was no where near what the victims had to go through, I felt seriously sad. I couldn’t escape it. It was like being trapped under a heavy, dark blanket that goes on for infinity with no opening in site.
I went to a bar by myself and drank a beer. It wasn’t satsifying. It was strange seeing loads of people out, very happy. Lots of laughter that night. It felt weird.
My buddy, who was initially with me at the Dark Knight Rises, also had an intense couple of days. We met up that night and had a great talk about our work. It felt good.
As I finish up these last sentences now, I’m leaving work for my first day off. I still feel like working and I don’t want to leave the story. I feel much better now. But it is time to flip the switch.