We Stand with WDBJ

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This is a story I wish I didn’t have to write:

They were two young journalists, eager and hungry for a story, fulfilling their dreams of working in TV news.

Reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, grew up in the Roanoke, Virginia, area and started their television careers there, becoming local celebrities in the process and finding love along the way.

I haven’t stopped thinking about these two journalists who were murdered on Wednesday. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried in my office when I read what Parker’s boyfriend, station anchor Chris Hurst, told the media in the hours after the shooting. I’m including it here because Hurst was the epitome of grace and class when talking about the incident, and his girlfriend.

“I don’t want to be away for very long. I don’t think Allison would want me to be away for very long. We have a lot more stories that we need to cover. There are always stories that are being uncovered and that’s our job. And Allison was very excited because yesterday she had just been able to secure a substantial interview and documentary process for a hospice series that she was going to try to execute and I hope that we’re able to take that and bring it to fruition.

She was so tireless in trying to build up this idea for a five-part series on hospice care. And was making great, great progress on being able to accomplish it, pretty much on her own. And had meetings for it yesterday and was very, very excited for that. So between that and where we were on vacation this past weekend on the Nantahala River in North Carolina, she today, I believe, was the happiest that I had ever seen her.

When I sent her in the car on her way to the station today, she was the happiest I’ve ever seen her. We made it a point whenever either of us was coming or going for work to text each other. I pleaded with her every single day to text me when she got to work safe, because it’s late at night and you’re driving by yourself. And she always did. The last thing she said to me was, ‘Goodnight sweet boy.’ And that’s the last thing I have from her.”

Charleston.

Photo by the AP's David Goldman.

Photo by the AP’s David Goldman.

I had the honor of working with many of my colleagues at the AP on this tragic story, and I didn’t deserve this byline. Those other reporters — Allen Breed, Jeffrey Collins, Meg Kinnard, Philip Lucas and Mitch Weiss, were on the ground in South Carolina.

I was in Florida, helping. Making calls. Talking to victims’ families over the phone. Still not easy. I won’t soon forget that the sister of victim DePayne Middleton-Doctor told me that they talked every day, and they started each call with laughter. They often forgot about what they really called each other for, because they were making each other crack up so hard.

It’s those little moments of peoples’ lives that we, as journalists, try to put into context. Here is the story we wrote, trying to capture the senselessness of the day, and the humanity of those who died.

DePayne Middleton-Doctor was a deeply spiritual woman who led the weekly classes at Mother Emanuel. At 49, the mother of four was juggling a new job as a college enrollment counselor along with caring for four daughters. But Doctor always made time for her faith.

Doctor had begun attending Emanuel in January — and on this night Bible study was postponed for a church business meeting that saw Doctor licensed to minister there. She stood before 50 or so people as the presiding elder signed her Bible, hymnal and a church handbook.

Most left after the meeting. Before church member Willi Glee left, one of the part-time ministers approached.

“I need to give you a hug,” Sharonda Coleman-Singleton said.

Not long after Glee left, the wooden door at the back of the church opened, and in walked Dylann Storm Roof.

Why?

Gilchrist County

Gilchrist County, Florida

How does one explain this?

Most people in this rural, north Florida community seemed to know about the Spirit family’s troubled and tragic past.

The patriarch, Don Spirit, who police say killed his daughter and his six grandchildren before committing suicide, served time a decade ago after he accidentally shot his son to death during a hunting trip. His daughter 28-year-old Sarah Lorraine Spirit was on probation at the time she was killed. Two men who fathered her slain children are locked up.

Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Schultz couldn’t say Friday what may have led up to the shootings. Don Spirit, 51, called 911 on Thursday afternoon from his home to say that he might hurt himself or others. By the time a deputy arrived at his mobile home along a dirt road, Spirit had committed suicide.

Twenty-nine-year Bell resident Barbara Whiddon cried when asked about the killings at a convenience store. She said she knew some of the slain children.

“If he was going to do something he should have done it to himself. Them babies is God’s angels,” he said.

That’s probably the most difficult part of my job – trying to explain the unexplainable, trying to make sense out of things that are too horrific to contemplate.