Along with rest of the world on August 26th, I stared at my computer screen horror watching the final minutes of 24-year-old Alison Parker. The flooding of dread that washed over me while viewing the footage was not due to the graphic nature of the actual shooting. It was from knowing that when Parker woke that morning, she had no idea that instead of covering the news she would be an international headline story in the worst way possible. Her cameraman Adam Ward most likely had ambitions of capturing a newsworthy moment that would go national. 72 hours ago, he would have laughed if someone told him that he would be a household name after being captured by a camera wielding gunman.
My arms were covered in goosebumps sparked by terror as Lester’s camera crept up to the trio filming the fluffy feature piece for WDBJ morning show. Similar to watching a horror movie, I wanted to yell at the oblivious bystanders that all hell was about to erupt. But the image that has caused me to lose sleep the past two nights was the look of horror on Alison’s face. The screenshot that appeared on the New York Daily News the day after, that depicted the split second of realization. The dumbfounded expression of in-studio Kimberly McBroom only added to the gut wrenching footage. The entire world would watch her reaction on replay, as she unexpectedly watched her coworkers be executed on live television.
With my social media newsfeed flooded with reactions of the shooting this week, it was clear that I was not the only person who was particularly struck by this tragedy. Yet as I was reading the outpouring of reactions to the New York Daily News cover story, something occurred to me. Why was it that only an act of gun violence involving an element of shock caught the attention of the masses? Personally, this was first time since the Massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 that an incident involving gun control struck a nerve. Again, it was the element of shock without a motive fueling the mass murders that left the nation outraged. In between the two massacres, there have been countless of public shootings that have been reported, but nothing registered as disturbing as the “typical public shootings’. Perhaps the troubling situation is that myself, and others in my generation have become a bit desensitized to the mass public casualties. Just the fact that most people can understand the phrase ‘typical public shooting’ and the differentiation between massacres like Sandy Hook is troubling.
Throughout my entire life, acts of violence and gun wielding maniacs have been nothing out of the ordinary. When the shooting at Columbine happened, I was 9 years old and vividly remember watching the news footage on CNN. As the images of students sobbing while running out of their high school aired on our television set, my parents tried to answer the questions I had. Why didn’t they go to their parents if they were upset? Did the kids who get shot feel a lot of pain? Could this happen in my school? Conversations of what to do in similar situations began taking place not only at home, but in the classroom.
Not long after that, I sat in my seventh grade math class watching breaking news coverage on September 11th. Being so young, my classmates and I asked how were the people going to get out of the building. And we were trying to make sense of how the pilot steered the plan so off course to end up in a building. It was not until it was explained that the instant replay looped countless times that morning was the instantaneous execution of hundreds of people. And the word hijacked forever found a place our vocabulary after being told that the crashes were pure forms of deliberate evil.
In a post 9/11 world, lockdown and emergency preparedness drills became standard like fire frills. Constant coverage of the post-9/11 world was inescapable, and part of everyday life. Almost daily, the formula of news reported would be identical: shootings, terrorism threats, Afghanistan War, economy trouble. There mass casualities of public shootings and acts of terrorism became white noise during news broadcasts. The faces of the victims would appear on screen as a headshot or from a happier time when alive for brief seconds, then fade to the next new item. Over time the phrases ‘gunmen’ and ‘victims’ became white noise that was part of everyday news.
Each with their own sorrows, the interviews of grieving family members with tears streaming down their faces began to blend together. And while each massacre stirred up the hot button issues of gun control and mental health in the United States, it would eventually settle down for a few months until another new slew of victims would be introduced in the media. This was the way of the world, I thought while watching yet another segment on a terrorism warning.
When the Sandy Hook Massacre happened, I was at a different part of my life. With a young niece of my own, my stomach dropped while watching the news coverage of frantic parents looking for their children. The description of how the children and teachers were found huddled in closets, unable to have a fighting chance at survival was the factor that set this tragedy apart. It stuck the exact nerve that was felt with this most recent shooting.
Being forced by the media to stare at Alison Parker’s face as she stared down the barrel of the gun was a wake up call. The common occurrence of gun violence cannot be something that is ingrained into the culture of our country. If every American who was horrified by the on-air murders contact their local legislation or took action to support gun control organizations, imagine the shift in conversation that our country would experience
Surely there are children who saw the screenshots from the cover of the New York Daily News, and are asking their parents tough questions this week. But their curiosity and questioning should not make us afraid. What would be more terrifying is if our upcoming generation saw the face of Alison Parker in her final moments, and asked nothing, accepting it as if it were the norm.