when working the overnight news shift in a major metropolitan city, one gets used to the homicides, carjackings, arsons and shootings. when you find yourself 120 miles away from that excitement, nuzzled between two mountain ranges in a valley that values its agriculture, scenic routes and conservative faith you forget what it’s like to cover bleeding news.
another thing the valley is known for… people have their very own personal scanners… so i found myself pulling into a crime scene after one of our employees overheard scanner chatter. something about a shooting. streets blocked off with orange cones… flashing lights from ambulances, fire trucks, SWAT vehicles, police cars… i grabbed my camera and snuck behind several businesses. police officers were swarming the perimeter of a strip mall. men with guns ducked behind vehicles and brick walls.
i found myself standing behind two pool & spa vans… peering around the back to shoot some video. several of the guys who worked at that store sat on top of the vans with binoculars. all of us focusing through our lenses on the tense unknown. more officers zoned in on the particular business, carrying what looked like a sledgehammer. my shaky camera capturing an even shakier situation.
i inched in front of the vans and ran to a police car that i crouched behind. it was closer, a better shot. across the scanners came a scratchy voice, “tv3 is exposed. tv3 is exposed.” a shock went through my system. what possessed me to sneak this far into the danger zone? i never thought i could be that ridiculous… they waved me back and i retreated to my spot behind the vans… but i think bullets can cut through vans.
i snuck back to my car to get my phone and the police chief came running towards me. his face seemed angry. he somehow picked me up by the shoulders and carried me with him. not angry, just stern. possibly two people down. not sure if there are hostages. it’s not safe for you down here i want you back in that parking lot up there. and just like that he vanished into the sea of uniforms.
i didn’t stay in that parking lot. i inched my way to the intersection where three ghost ambulances lay in wait. their lights flashing but their sirens mute. then, all at once a frenzy of activity… two stretchers loaded into two different ambulances. i saw the man up close… blood splattered shirt, khaki pants, brown work boots, laying very still… stiff. doors were closed and the ambulances just sat there, motionless.
a third ambulance eventually retrieved a severely wounded passenger and sped down neff avenue.
one man went to work with a gun and killed two co-workers and then himself. i see those brown boots being pushed into the second ambulance. boots that belonged to someone’s dad or grandfather. hours later at the station i’d hear, “isn’t this the kind of day you dream about?!” not really. three people died this morning. i don’t think anyone dreams about that.