Nelson's View

Thursday, December 11, 2008

One year ago

It was one year ago on December 5, 19-year-old Robert Hawkins walked into Omaha's Westroads Mall and shot and killed nine people including himself in a store decorated for Christmas. What a tragedy. What a senseless act. Hawkins said he wanted to be famous and unfortunately with all the media coverage, that's what he got. My heart goes out to those families. I was a reporter in North Platte, NE at the time. At first I was saddened for what had happened but it was hours away from me and seemed so distant. Then I learned that one of the victims (Gary Scharf) was a cousin of my co-worker, also a reporter. Scharf was originally from a town close to North Platte.

It hit me even worse when my boss walked up to me about an hour before Gary's funeral and asked me to cover it. Gulp. Being new to the reporting business I hadn't even covered a fatal accident or house fire where you can talk to the firefighters or police officers and not have to bother family. I'm still not a fan of covering these sorts of events. I know it's part of the job but you have to practice some sensitivity. On one hand I was thankful he hadn't approached me the day before because then I would have probably lost a little sleep.

There's nothing I would dislike more than to have a snoopy reporter at my family member's funeral when in the process of trying to make sense of what happened.

Another one of my editors was telling me that AP wanted my story... before I'd even left my cubicle to start it. Talk about pressure. I sneaked into the back of the church as discreetly as I could with my notebook and pen hidden away in my purse.

There was a lot to write about as people shared about what kind of man Gary was. As I recall, someone had said Gary had to catch a flight and had some time to kill so he stopped to do a little shopping. A few relatives shared their favorite memories of Gary with me afterward. I had been so nervous about covering the funeral that I didn't even think to change clothes into something dressier. Someone later complained that the clothes the photographer and I were wearing weren't appropriate. I can't remember what exactly I was wearing but I think it was khaki pants and sweater. My boss told me he took the blame for that because he hadn't given me much notice about going to the funeral.

As a journalist there is nothing that truly prepares you for an event like this. I confided in my co-worker who had lost her cousin; she had been a reporter for many years. She told me that having to cover tragic events like these aren't something that you improve on with more experience. It's not something you grow more comfortable doing once you've done it, she said. I found that to be so true.