Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Grim Business

“This sucks.” I nodded at Whitey’s words as we looked out over the apartment complex parking lot. In the distance, a firefighter tossed clumps of debris from a second story window as a half dozen detectives watched the curtain of soot fall to the ground below. Nearby, a women slumped around her cell phone and rubbed her eyes. A steady breeze whipped the ribbons of hastily strung tape back and forth, but the rustling of the bright yellow plastic was drowned by the roar of a half dozen fire trucks. I saw it all through my viewfinder, where tragedy and happenstance are clinically rendered in black and white. Zooming in on the where the glass once spanned, I opened the iris until I could make out flashlight beams dancing in the black window space. Not sure if I’d use it, I recorded the shot anyway. In truth, I was just mopping up.

Hours earlier, I’d rolled up in a live truck only to have to debate a police officer on where I might park it. Once we came to terms, I grabbed my gear out of the back and began walking up the street toward the fire trucks, only to be summoned back by another officer. ’What’s their trip?’, I wondered as I returned the cop’s sour gaze, A few minutes later I found out, when the morning producer called my cell phone. Seems the apartment complex I was standing across from was more heavily damaged than I could see. Ninety minutes earlier, flames erupted from one unit, eventually gutting it before damaging three others. Firefighters arrived and kept the blaze from spreading, but once they entered the unit, they found two people inside. An ambulance rushed the pair to a nearby hospital, where doctors pronounced the younger of the two deceased. Jaden Shoffner was five years old.

The death of the child had not been confirmed when Eric White crawled in Unit Four and roared out of the station’s parking lot. Thirty minutes later he’d join me on scene, review my footage of the smoldering apartment complex, pick a soundbite from my interview with the fire department’s Public Information Officer and write a terse, forty second script around it. After trying like mad to establish a signal, we were forced to drive our live truck two miles away to the police department, where we knew we could ‘get a hit’. Once we did, heavy cable unfurled, a tripod magically erected and brisk editing ensued. By the time they took our shot at noon, that frenzy had faded. Standing center screen, Eric delivered the news with the appropriate grimace as the director punched up the heavily-edited clip I’d fed to the station ten minutes earlier.

“This sucks, all right,” I said to Whitey when we returned to survey the scene, “but what sucks worse is how comfy we've become here..."

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