If you live in the Piedmont, you’re probably still wrapping your head around today’s heist at Friendly Center. Here’s what (we know) happened. Around 10 am, a man dressed in surgical scrubs and a red wig shot a Brinks armored truck employee during a scheduled pick-up at the Old Navy. Customers saw the man loitering around the store before the armored truck arrived. When it did, witnesses say the man in scrubs shot a guard at point blank range, grabbed some bags and ran to a dark car waiting in an adjacent parking lot. The man got away, the guard later died and people around here wondered just where in the hell is safe these days. To that, I have no answer. After all, I’m just a cameraman. But I was there minutes after the shooter escaped and I can tell you what little I saw:
Until shots rang out at Greensboro’s most popular shopping center, it had been a pretty slow news day. I was driving to a sidewalk meeting at the time, thinking of nothing more than where I might eat lunch - when the cell phone on my side began to vibrate. A few seconds later I executed my first u-turn of the week, late for what would surely be our lead story. On the way, I did the logistics. See, shopping malls - both inside and out - are aggressively patrolled by security guards these days. Most times, I can barely get my fancycam out of my unmarked car before some Friendly Center rent-a-cop gets in my grill. And that’s when I’m there to interview Santa Claus. What it would be like in the wake of an armored car heist I did not know - but with my station-owned cell phone in mid-meltdown, I was about to find out.
To my surprise, no one so much as said ‘boo’ to me when I rolled into the McDonald’s parking lot across from the Old Navy and set up my camera. Cops were everywhere. Some directing traffic, others rolling out yellow tape while their superiors milled about the Brinks truck parked outside Old Navy. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed even more cops walking methodically by a neighboring bank. Still not sure what had happened, I let my camera roll as I wheeled about from cop cluster to a K-9 crew to detective huddle. At any moment I expected some schlub in a rented badge to shoo me away, but to my surprise the Wackenhut drove by and only glared. Maybe they were intimidated by all the real cops on scene. Maybe like me, they were too busy taking in local history to bother anybody else. Whatever the case, they did their job and allowed me to do mine.
Of course I wasn’t the only journalist descending on Friendly Center. But I was one of the first. For a good ten minutes I swung my lens this way and that, never once spotting a competitor or coworker. Fine by me, for I knew it was only a matter of a few more minutes before this place would be teeming with familiar faces. Looking around, I proclaimed another Mickey Dee’s parking space in the name of El Ocho, for the live truck I figured had to be on the way. A few minutes later it arrived; Danny Spillane offered only a minimum of grab-ass before planting his camera and tripod beside mine. Reporter Sheeka Strickland sauntered off to find an officer who would talk and Danny set up the live truck. As he did I climbed in back, fired up the laptop and began slicing shots into a sequence for the noon remote that was about to follow. I was halfway through my edit when I looked up to see a camera scrum growing around Police Chief Tim Bellamy. Only then did it occur to start taking still shots - something my colleagues have accepted as just something I do.
Thirty minutes later, I left Friendly Center in the leathery hands of my fellow photogs. Somewhere across town a sidewalk meeting was well underway and even a senseless murder outside a place my kids shop wasn’t going to keep me from its tranquilizing tones. Besides, there were plenty of my friends there to mind the store. And unlike, the detectives who must now find a killer, my work was done.
Until, of course, I return for the inevitable follow up...