As a journalist, it’s in these moments you enter into a zone, respectfully and discreetly making images of reactions of family and friends as they break down and console one another. These images of grief and anguish usually hit readers the most.
Homicide victims are not statistics. They are people who had family, co-workers and friends.
A family is never the same after a loved one is taken by a violent act. I know this firsthand. My older brother’s good friend, a Vietnam veteran who shared his combat experiences with me, was shot to death in 1980. A close family member took their own life by gun in 1991. Nine years later, a cousin I was close to in age was shot to death.
I decided a long time ago that I would not just take photos and take information from the scenes of homicide investigations. I had to give something while I was there.
Aside from something journalistically, that something I do is spiritual. I pray the grieving families’ burdens may be lightened and mercy cover their loved ones. I even pray for the perpetrators, as radical as that seems. Christian ethics demand prayer for our enemies. Even murderers like Moses and Saul were given the time and grace to change. And eventually, they became great lights for good. My prayer for a perpetrator is that their prison cell become a monastery.
It is easy for media audiences to become desensitized and dismiss the latest homicide as just another one. That’s especially true for stories absent of a visual component. Images change perception and understanding.
That’s my main driving factor when covering homicides. If people are gunning down folks at the local gas station, I’d like my family to know about it.
It’s also important to report what prompted the violence. Is the public in danger from an assailant on the loose? Was it gang-related or random? Even a domestic situation has the potential to place the public in danger.
Sometimes detectives don’t want to release preliminary details in fear of jeopardizing their case or tipping off a person of interest too soon. I believe disseminating the information to the public is a matter of public safety.
I’ve remarked to colleagues about how the Atlanta Police Department’s homicide unit does such thorough work and gets a lot of cases solved. And of course comes the answer, “They have plenty of practice.”
Photojournalist John Spink began his career with the Kansas City Times and was part of the Pulitzer award-winning staff that covered the 1981 Hyatt Regency Disaster. He joined the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1984 and has photographed a variety of news stories and sports, including Super Bowls in Houston and Atlanta and the Braves’ World Series celebration. He has covered breaking news since 1996.