Just like the crime scene, the emotional maze is messy.
A friend, Tom Fox, documented a shooting in progress on June 17, 2019, at the Earle Cabell Federal Building in Dallas. He wasn’t sent there to cover a shooting – a gunman happened to arrive while he was there. As a human being and the wife of a photojournalist, I find myself in the aftermath of this complex story feeling all sorts of emotions that need to be out in the open.
Terrified because of what happened. Frightened of what seemed so close to happening. Shaken that this easily could have been my husband out on assignment. Immensely grateful that Tom is still alive, and that all the other DFW photojournalists are as well.
Uncomfortable with the way some people are talking about this story, heaping praise on him for capturing incredible photos and glossing over the fact that he experienced horror and trauma. The shooter was around 10 feet away.
Concerned that a teenager, or anyone really, who finds themselves in a similar situation – and who doesn’t have the photojournalism experience or training that Tom has – will attempt to get “that perfect shot” because they now have seen it’s possible and that it will garner lots of attention. And I’m afraid they’ll die in the process.
Unsurprised by the photos that Tom composed and how he reacted in a significantly challenging situation. He’s a passionate, amazing photojournalist.
Unsettled because this photo will continue getting discussed and every time it’s brought up it’ll be an acknowledgement of the talent he has, but it will also serve as a reminder of the day he almost died. And these conflicting ideas make this event hard to process.
Befuddled about and frustrated that some news outlets are continuing to use the shooter’s name. Not only does this memorialize him but it also makes it easy for those who want to research his preparation and plans to do so. Some pieces and outlets are doing better than others. But I have to gently and firmly call for better guidelines and execution of a newsroom’s “naming the shooter” policy.
Empathetic toward Tom and his family because of what they’re going through and will continue to process for months to come. Worried that they might have to change their social media habits because there is video that shows how close to death he was. This incident is inescapable in their online worlds.
We collectively are OK with these shootings as everyday events? We’re OK if thousands of us in our society are traumatized or expect to experience this specific type of terror at some point? Tom didn’t sign up to be embedded in an army unit overseas. He was doing an everyday, boring assignment that turned into a battleground. Do journalists really have to put on armor to do their jobs while they work within our country’s borders? Is that what we require now? Should all of us just walk around with the expectation that any place can turn into a war zone at a moment’s notice?
Troubled by the big ask we’re extending to journalists as they repeatedly cover mass shootings and potential mass shootings. How many can we really expect them to do? Who won’t go into the profession in part because they do not want to document this human destruction so frequently?
Journalism has always been a reality-drenched job that covers a spectrum of life events and situations, but, sadly, Tom is not the only one in Dallas-Fort Worth that’s covered a shooting in progress. We are asking much of journalists, especially in a time when some label them “the enemy of the people.”
I hope that we can offer the support journalists need to avoid burnout and process the trauma they document or experience. And I hope we can take steps to lower the number of mass shootings that occur. They are not going away and they have real consequences.
It’s only a matter of time before a shooting affects us individually in some way. ■
Lindsey Perkins Wade is a digital marketing consultant and writer. She helps companies leverage social media, content marketing and their websites to grow their businesses.