TV shooting hits close to home

Both my daughters flew the coop some time ago: my oldest to attend medical school and the youngest to begin her career as a television journalist in Mississippi, the same state where I began my own journey more than 35 years ago.

At 26 and 24, they don’t much understand having a curfew, and so the old argument about being home at a reasonable hour so I can fall asleep is a frequent visitor during their increasingly rare returns home.

I often tell them that I don’t worry so much about them. They’ve grown into very responsible young women. I’m more concerned with the others – the drunken drivers, those who are up to no good.

Tragedy can visit in a moment, in the blink of an eye just as it did the other day when two up-and-coming journalists were killed by a former colleague at WDBJ-TV in Virginia.

As television viewers watched on live television Wednesday, reporter Alison Parker and her cameraman Adam Ward were shot to death near Smith Mountain Lake. The person being interviewed, local Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vicki Gardner, was wounded but was expected to survive.

Police later identified the gunman as Vester Lee Flanagan II, a former co-worker of the journalists. Several hours later after a police chase, Flanagan, 41, shot and killed himself.

No one ever thinks that they or a loved one will be killed while at work, but it happens. Nearly 2 million American workers each year report having been victims of workplace violence, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that from 2006 to 2010, an average of 551 workers per year were killed as a result of work-related homicides.

Both my daughters happened to be home for a visit last week when news about the Roanoke shooting broke and it was Asha, our family’s television reporter, who made us all aware.

“Mom,” she said as she thrust her cellphone in my face. “That could be me.”

She was right.

Alison, ironically, was the same age as my Asha, 24, and when I heard the station manager describe her, she reminded me of my little girl. Bright. Ambitious. Always happy.

After just 20 months on the job, I know enough about what she has already been confronted with to be concerned, but I try not to live my life in fear and I’ve tried to teach her the same thing, reminding her that “God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power and a sound mind.”

That means not looking anxiously about but simply being mindful always of her surroundings. I tried not to belabor the point, but we talked at length about this again on Thursday.

Particularly concerning for me is the fact that Asha is often alone on assignments. Not only does she report her stories, she often shoots the video to go along with them. There is rarely a cameraman with her.

Second, when she joined her station’s morning show a few months ago, it meant leaving her apartment in the wee hours of the morning.

Please be mindful of your surroundings when stepping out into the night and walking to your car, I often remind her.

And then there are the people from whom she seeks interviews.

Once while reporting on the rape of a little girl at a trailer park, she told me, a “white couple cursed me out and told me to stop rehashing the past.”

Then the next day, when her news director wanted her to return for a live shot because the police had recovered the little girl’s body, Asha was afraid.

Early in my career, I covered night cops at The Sacramento Bee so I understand her fear. When a police chief called to complain about the type of questions I was asking, that was the end of that.

If you’re asking those kinds of hard questions we could use you on days, my boss told me. Lord, was I happy.

But back to Asha. As any parent would, I worry about her sometimes because I know this is still new territory for her. The Mississippi Gulf Coast, where she works, and her job at WLOX-TV. Because she wants to prove herself, she’s more inclined to take risks.

Plus, she has encountered enough resistance from the public that she thinks about what might happen.

“I think about it every day, especially when I have to go out on breaking news and a crime is involved,” she said. “Even when I’m anchoring, I think about it because I wouldn’t want anything to happen to my colleagues. People don’t care that we’re just doing our jobs.”

She’s right about that, too.

And so her dad and I pray for God to put a hedge around both her and Jamila, to send his angels of protection before them. We can’t always be there to protect our children, but we believe in a God who can because not only is he all-knowing, he’s everywhere.

Sometimes, I think that’s the only reason I can get through the day and sleep peacefully at night. I trust him to watch over both our girls and us.

Brad Kessie, news director at WLOX, said the shock and pain he felt watching the Virginia shooting was eerily reminiscent to what he felt on 9/11.

His job, he said, is to teach, to lead and to inspire. On the morning of the shooting, “Our inspiration came from the talented men and women at WDBJ who soldiered on despite losing Alison and Adam.”

At WLOX, Kessie said they talked about security both in the office and on assignment, and reminded field crews if they ever feel uncomfortable at scenes, “they should let us know.”

“Safety always comes first,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone at WDBJ, and to the families impacted by this senseless act of violence.”

When tragedies like Wednesday’s shootings happen, I always look for some meaning, some lesson to be learned and this time will be no different.

Meanwhile, I will simply pray. For the families of the deceased, for our politicians to finally have the courage to address issues surrounding gun violence, for our children’s safety.

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