Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

The Fallout

Posted May 25, 2007 4:48 p.m. EDT

In every tragedy, there are multiple victims. The fallout from one death spirals in bigger and bigger circles across a community like the ripples that a tiny pebble casts across a pond.

It's hard to believe that a tiny pebble can send waves all the way to the edge of a massive pond, just like it's hard to believe that one death can affect so many people.

As a television news reporter, I perceive every story visually. And often, there is one picture that solidifies the entire event for me. In just a few seconds of video, I can see the effects of a tragedy more clearly than in the hundreds of words that I write every day.

Often, translating this feeling to the viewer is hard to do. In many ways, newspapers do this better because the picture is a frozen moment in time that you can look at again and again, measuring the nuances of the photograph against the weight of the event.

For me, the picture that solidified Tuesday's tragic shooting death of a suspect on the Beltline was the picture of a deputy sitting on a guardrail. It was clear from his demeanor that he was deeply troubled, remorseful -- maybe even in shock. I didn't cover the original incident, so when the tape came to my hands and I looked at it for the first time, I was immediately struck by this man. He was hunched over, wringing his hands, alone, and obviously distraught. Immediately, I knew that this man must have been one of the five officers who were involved in the shooting of the suspect.

The investigation into the incident continues. The man's family says he was mentally ill, and they had tried to get him help. Investigators say the man stole a car, robbed a store, led authorities on a high-speed chase and then tried to get out of his car, gun in hand. That's when he was shot. There are still a lot of questions surrounding the incident.

What's clear is that his family and friends are in mourning. What's also clear from the picture of the deputy sitting on a the guardrail is that so are the officers who took his life.

Even if a shooting is justified, officers are human beings, human beings who are trained to protect lives. Most of them never fire a gun in their careers except at a firing range. The toll an event like this takes on them emotionally cannot be underestimated.

I've heard from my friends in law enforcement that some officers who take a life are never the same again. It is an irrevocable event that brings them in touch with mortality in a way that few of us will ever know or be able to understand.

In every tragedy there are many victims, and they are on both sides of the law.

About this Blog:

WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.