American Dispatch: Covering A Massacre

By FOX News Radio’s Jessica Rosenthal in Colorado:

These “American Dispatches” are supposed to be about our experiences as reporters covering stories. The different things we’re struck by. Maybe not the most obvious aspects of a story, but aspects that make the biggest impressions. In Aurora, Colorado, I can’t say what those “aspects” are. The whole story just hurt. I didn’t even know how much until I was driving to the airport and burst into tears.

All I could think about in that moment was the story of Tom Sullivan, the father of 27-year-old Alex Sullivan who was killed. According to an AP photographer, Mr. Sullivan got impatient standing outside the Century 16 Theater after the shooting. He held a photo of his son above his head and yelled, “Where’s my son? Have you seen my son?”  At the time, Alex’s body was inside the theater.

The AP photographer says Sullivan’s voice rattled his bones. The picture he snapped of Mr. Sullivan, clutching family members with his mouth open and twisted with grief, is forever seared in my memory. So is the look of shock on the faces of a couple that said they knew the suspect. So is the sound of the breaking voice of teenager Vanessa as she tells me she hopes the souls of the dead are not in pain. So is the empty look in the eyes of the hospital security guard.

Now I feel empty and confused. I was sent to Arizona to cover the Tucson shooting rampage. I was sent to Oakland earlier this year to cover a massacre at Oikos University. Now this. These nightmarish stories leave one feeling horribly sad and angry too, but they also leave us wondering why. What drives someone to do this and can that person be stopped?

While in Aurora, I heard talk of gun control especially on talk radio. I heard talk of the need for mental health services. I recalled a conversation I had with a foreign ex-boyfriend who told me after the Giffords shooting, that these kinds of shootings seem to only happen in America. He said Americans are lonely. He said we don’t talk to each other. We mind our own business. He told me, “Jess, I don’t know ANY of my neighbors here… if I were back in my country right now, there’s no way I’d be sitting here at home after work. People would be knocking on my door. We’d be eating together, hanging out together. In America you all keep to yourselves.” Everyone has an opinion about why these shootings occur.  Could it simply be some of us are achingly lonely? Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper doesn’t think so.

Hickenlooper said “Even if he didn’t have access to guns this guy was diabolical…he would have found explosives…” adding, “You know in a way this guy was a terrorist.” I guess I picture terrorism differently. I imagine it to be politically motivated.  I am under the impression that terrorism comes with a reason, even if that reason is deranged and sick.

Until I know the reason for this shooting, I will simply pray the victims’ families find peace. I will pray the shooter feels remorse. I will pray for the safety of the first responders who, because of how quickly they moved, perhaps saved many lives. And just in case, even if it’s a long shot, and even if it sounds silly, I’ll try to be a bit friendlier to my neighbors.

LISTEN to some of Jessica Rosenthal’s reporting from Aurora, Colorado: