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Dealing With The Deaths Of Those You Meet On The Job

Just the other day I was thinking about how I should start blogging again. Obviously this blog is about my journalistic experiences, which can be very difficult to write about because you must be careful with every word you write or it could be taken out of context. I think that’s why it’s been awhile. I get too paranoid about sharing how I feel. But today would be a good day for me to write. When I say that I mean, writing is healing to me, and I think I really need that right now.

Today has been draining to say the least. For those of you not living in this area, the biggest story of the day was the death of our local assemblyman Bill Nojay. Bill died of a self-inflicted gun shot wound at the cemetery this morning.

One of the biggest misconceptions I hear about journalists is we don’t care or we don’t feel. This is the furthest from the truth, at least for the journalists I know personally. In fact, the reason why my colleagues and I got into this career, is because we care so much and we want to make a difference. We want to share others’ stories and by doing so provide our viewers with a different perspective on life. You may think aspects of our job don’t bother us, like knocking on doors of those who just loved their loved ones or being on the scene of a gruesome crash, but whether we force ourselves not to feel it at the time, it does impact us in one way or another.

Understandably we are not able to share our feelings on stories. That is, of course, because our job is present facts, not feelings or opinions. I’m not a very opinionated person, so I suppose that’s why this job suits me so well.

However, this doesn’t mean we don’t make connections with the people we speak to while out covering stories. When I show up to an interview, I’m not just plopping down the camera and rigidly asking them the questions without getting to know the interviewee personally. I want to know how their day is going. I want to know what they are passionate about. I want to know how their family is. I’m not there just to ask a few questions. I’m there to learn more about those in my community on a deeper level. Because of this I feel like I have made friends in places far and wide.

Regardless of what lead Bill to take his life, he was still a person my colleagues and I got to know very well. I felt sick to my stomach when I found out what had happened. Every time I talked to Bill he was always upbeat and very nice to me. It’s hard to watch his friends and others in the community suffering from this.

(Co-worker interviewing Bill Nojay back in April at the Trump Rally. I am behind the camera) 

His death has not only shaken me, but it’s made me think a lot. I have lost so many more people that I have met on the job than I ever could have imagined. The way I found out about each of their deaths still feels like yesterday.

I remember when Larry Glazer and his wife died when their plane went down off the coast of Jamaica. When my station told me they had learned the plane was registered to Buckingham Properties, but didn’t know yet what Rochester resident was on the plane, I just knew it was him. Larry and I had just spoken weeks before about his passion for flying while I interviewed him for an unrelated story. He had shared with me all the ideas he had gathered from places he flew to that he wanted to implement in Rochester. This tragedy left me in shock for days.

The first loss I experienced from someone I had met while writing a story was in high school. I became really close with private investigator from our town who worked on major cases like OJ Simpson’s murder trial, Elian Gonzales’s immigration case, and Laci Peterson’s murder case. I spent hours with him learning about his life and he ended up becoming one of my driving forces to continue on with journalism. It wasn’t long after the article was published I learned he had passed. His death impacted me for years and I still think about how he changed my life, especially during a time when I needed it.

Since then I’ve found every death I’ve experienced from those I’ve met on the job has been difficult. The biggest reason why I think I feel this way is simple: these people let me into their lives and trusted me to share their story. They spent the time opening up to me and sharing some of their most personal thoughts. And it doesn’t just end there. In turn, I spend hours shooting, writing, and editing their story. Sometimes at the end of the day, all of this makes me feel like I’ve known them forever. 

Now, I want to dedicate this blog post in memory of those who have passed that I got to know while working. To Bill, Larry and Ernie. To Gurnal Jones, who allowed me into his home to learn about his extremely rare sickness that ultimately took his life. To Cascade County Sheriff Deputy Joe Dunn, who was killed in the line of duty, but whom I got to know while covering courts. To Rodger McConnell, who allowed me to share his story as he fought tirelessly for homeless veterans in Great Falls. To my really good friend Sam Muratore, who I also met while doing a story and passed last year from natural causes. To Ange Vohs, who gave me and KRTV so much love and support, but passed away in a car accident this past February.

With the thousands of people I have met through my job, it’s hard to imagine there are many more I don’t know about that have passed… but for now I’d like to say thank you all for letting me share your stories. I feel honored to know I was a part of your lives.

Rest in peace my friends.
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Joplin Tornado: An Outsider's Perspective

It's an indescribable sight: homes leveled, large amounts of debris scattered about including cars twisted in in abnormal shapes, tree's stripped down to the stumps...

Just last week I was standing right in the middle of it all, trying to figure out where I should start taping for my story while also trying to take it in. Turning to the left, I spotted a baby's toy on the edge of the curb. I sat and stared for at least two minutes. Where was this baby now? Where was the family? Did they all get out safe? I took my camera and focused in on it.

Next I turned slightly more to my left and noticed a tricycle wedged between a broken home and the stump of a tree. What had that home looked like before the single deadliest tornado since 1950 tore through this small town of about 50,000 people? Everywhere lied bits of people's life, torn apart and in a pile of shambles.

I've been trying to write this blog post since I got back, but where do I start? How do you explain how it feels to stand in the middle of a place where hundreds of lives have been destroyed? How do you explain the empty pit you get in your stomach the second you see it? It's not easy, but here it is. This is an outsider's perspective.

When I first arrived in Joplin, I began to get nervous and braced myself by taking a few deep breaths. I had heard about the horror, I had seen the pictures, but I knew it was going to be different when I saw it myself. I was right. It's one thing to see the pictures, another to see it first-hand, and a completely another to live it. I can't explain how it is to live it - because I didn't, but I can describe what I saw.

My first day there I didn't get much of a chance to talk to residents, but I did visit a site where volunteers were handing out necessities. It was clear these people were reaching out for any sort of help they could get. Thousands had visited throughout the day to get things like toothbrushes, toilet paper, and water. Next door the only good source of communication the town had, the radio station, was broadcasting pleas from people asking if anyone had seen friends and family.

After the 9 p.m. liveshot it started lightening pretty bad, so we packed up. Curfew had started at 9 anyway. As soon as we got everything back in the sat truck, the tornado sirens started going off. My two friends and I jumped into our car and raced to a friend's house. On our way there we almost collided with another car in a hurry. As we tried to turn they stuck their heads out of the window and started yelling and swearing at us, asking us what we were thinking and asking us to move. I don't blame them for their actions, not after what they had been through a few days before.

At my friends house we took cover in her bathroom:


Thankfully the stormed passed. During the sirens though, I thought about how I would never think lightly of a tornado warning again. After seeing the devastation that day, I was terrified. I noticed however, how those at my friend's house were laughing and making jokes. One friend was staying over because he had lost his home. I kept asking them how they were so calm, and the guy who lost his home replied, "I've lost everything I have, I have nothing more to lose than my life."

After a few zzz's, it was time for the morning show. We headed back to our live location at 3:30 a.m.

During the morning show, I decided to take a walk around by myself. I peered into what was what left of buildings, staring down at the ground to see what things I might see. It felt odd to be looking into open buildings and homes, as if I were invading people's private lives. What irked me is, while there were belongings that had been tossed thousands of feet from where they had once been, there were several things that sat in the same place they had been before the storm. One in particular I remember is a binder. Our live shot was located next to the Stained Glass Theatre. On the night of the storm, a production had just closed it curtains. Two people were killed in the theatre. Beside some exterior walls, the theater itself had practically been demolished. On top of it sat a car. Inside, where I suspect the basement had been, was a binder sitting on a wooden shelf. It looked virtually untouched. You wonder how things like that happen... The storm can throw a truck against a tree and bend the metal so the front of the truck is touching the back, but a binder didn't move one inch.

After the morning show, the two I had come down with left back to Columbia and I went with the sat truck operator back to his hotel to wait for the next to two reporters coming down.

While sitting in the hotel lobby an sweet elderly man sitting at the table next to me smiled and said hello to me. His eyes were barely open, glued shut by a lack of sleep and I'm assuming lots of crying. I explained to him who I was and asked if it'd be okay if I sat next to him. From there we talked for a good 45 minutes. He told me about how he and his wife had lost his home and how he was thankful to be alive. He told me how he was taking it okay, but his wife wasn't. He said she was finally getting sleep for the first time since the tornado. He couldn't sleep though. He seemed in good spirits for someone who had been through such a tragic event. It wasn't until I asked him if he saw the support coming in from surrounding communities that he started crying. He explained how some boys from Kansas City came to help him, people he didn't even know. Throughout my trip in Joplin, I met several people who didn't cry when telling me their story... only when they started explaining how volunteers who randomly showed up to help them did they cry. It gave me a sense this was a strong community, one that just needed help from the outside to rebuild itself.

Once the two reporters got there we headed out to where officials were handing out permits for families to get back into the devastated areas for the first time... except they had run out of permits and were now allowing people into the areas with photo identifications such as driver's licenses. The problem they were having is many people had lost everything including their driver's license. Finally they just started letting everybody in. I spoke with a police officer who said they had hoped to stop looting in the areas, but it wasn't almost impossible to tell who had lived in the area and who hadn't. Many had lost their identifications in the tornado and many others were family members wanting to help. I didn't see any looting, but I sure hope there wasn't any. I know there was when the tornado first hit. There were plenty of "gawkers" driving through that day though.

After this, I headed back to the devastated area where I had been the past few days. It took awhile, but I finally gathered up the courage to talk with a couple digging through their grandfather's home. I heisted at first because I heard some swearing and thought they might be too upset to talk. Turns out they were more than glad to see the media out there. "People need to know what's going on here," they told me. It goes to show though how many stories can be missed if you don't bother to politely ask if you can talk to them. If feel it's never good to say you understand what they are going through, but it is okay to comfort them and tell them you are sorry... even if they don't want to talk with you.

The man, Dustin Orange, explained to me how he ran many blocks to his grandfather's home after the tornado, jumping power lines, trees, and dodging through traffic. As soon as he got to the home he began digging where he thought his grandfather might be. A neighbor came by to say he had gotten his uncle and grandfather out from under a van and got them help. Read his entire story in his own words here. Watch my story below watch as he and his wife dig through the home to see what they could salvage:



I next talked to a couple digging through their own home. Adam, the husband, told me about he and his wife Maggie were Hurricane Katrina victims and how they had only been in Joplin for 10 months. Adam told me the amazing story of how he had searched for his puppy Saint after the tornado hit, but couldn't find him. The next day he and Maggie came back and dug through the rubble to find Saint's cage. Once they caught a glimpse of it, they called his name, but didn't hear anything. Finally his wife stuck her finger through the cage and felt Saint's licking her fingers. A Tulsa photographer was there to capture the moment they pulled Saint out of the rubble. It's photo that has been splashed on the front cover of many big name newspapers, giving other Joplin resident's hope:


The day I met them they were going through their home picking out any personal item they could save. About 30 volunteers, ranging from kids to adults from nearby ministries, had come to help Adam, Maggie, and other residents sift through the rubble. Adam and Maggie had garbage bags full of what they had saved. Adam said it would not have been possible to find everything they had without the help of those volunteers. Now, he and his wife plan to move to Texas where they have family.

Halfway through the second day I was already exhausted. I was tired of seeing faces filled with pain. Tired of seeing broken trees and tangled cars everywhere. The town itself had an eerie feeling hanging over it, even in the parts that hadn't been touched by the tornado. The few naps I took in the car definitely helped take it all in, but even time I woke up, I still felt like I was in a dream.

Coming home I had many mixed emotions. The hardest part for me was going to bed the morning I got home. My favorite part of my day is always climbing into my warm bed after a long day, but here I was feeling terribly guilty. These people no longer have beds to climb into, no place but stiff cots to rest their tired bodies. I can't even imagine what it feels like to have the comfort of your own home completely stripped from you. I can't imagine not having a quiet place to go to pray that family and friends will come home safely. That morning I was slightly afraid to fall asleep, I was afraid I would dream of the horror stories I had heard. The story of the 18-year-old boy who was traveling home with his father after his high school graduation when the tornado sucked him out out of the car's sunroof. The story of several people being sucked out of the hospital's windows. The stories I can't even share on here. But I did fall asleep and that evening I woke up, still feeling like all I had witnessed the past few days was just a dream...I just wish I could say it was.

A few links I felt were worth sharing: Before and after street views, as well as an overhead aerial view, in the devastated areas.

LA Times compilation of photos.

Daily Mail's before and after shots, aerial shots, and incredible photos from after the tornado.

My own Flickr slideshow coming soon!

UPDATE: With the help of KOMU and United Way, mid-Missouri has raised over a million dollars for Joplin. I can't express how proud of my community I am!!!
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Bon Jovi Set Up Takes More Than A Prayer

Got some Bon Jovi lovin'? I spent yesterday learning how a concert on the tour is set up. Boy, it was quite the experience and a fun story to tell! The entire crew was extremely friendly and helpful!

Take a look at my story and the photos I took:





Read the online story by clicking here.
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St. Louis Community Banding Together After Tornado Destruction

As soon as the news hit and the photos surfaced, I sat shocked. The Lambert - St. Louis International Airport I had been to just a week before had been hit by a strong tornado and now looked like a war zone. Pieces of broken glass lay scattered about, a MO-X bus teetered off the side of a parking garage, and people inside the terminals were still reeling from what they had just witnessed.

The moment it hit I knew I wanted and needed to go out to St. Louis to cover it. Since this was the first time I was going to cover a tornado, I didn't know exactly what to expect. At first I thought I actually thought the entire process of finding a story might be easy, but the stories emotionally draining. Well, I was right on the second part, wrong on the first.

My trip started off late and I didn't get down to St. Louis and working on my story until 2 p.m. Considering I had a 2.5 hr long trip back to Columbia to get my package done for the 9 p.m. show I had to work quickly. I started looking for the towns hit by the tornado, but oddly enough it was much harder than I anticipated. I decided to head to a nearby community center where Red Cross had set up a shelter to see if they could help. I spoke with the shelter manager who talked with me about what they were doing,

Next the Red Cross Volunteers introduced me to a brave family of seven whose home had completely been destroyed. I spoke with the owner of the home (the mother), and the uncle and his son on camera. The mother was still in church when the tornado hit. The other six were home at the time and just reached the bottom of the basement stairs when the tornado tore through the home. They were all extremely happy to be alive and astonished not even the toddler was hurt. In fact, the thing I'm most thankful for is there were no deaths in this tornado. Just incredible.

After having them show me where in the shelter they were sleeping now, I headed out to their community. I ran into a few workers doing estimations on homes and spoke with them about how long rebuilding the place would take. About a year they told me.

I continued on to look for the more devastated areas. Time was running thin and I began to worry since I hadn't even seen much tornado damage yet, except along the highway. Finally I saw a group of police cars, along with some black SUV's driving into a neighborhood. I followed them deep into the subdivision and found out this is where most of the damage took place. I talked with workers, the church providing food and water to those still in their homes, and I talked with residents who shared their stories. Since our station had already covered the aspect of what people thought when the tornado hit (and it was a day and a half after the tornado hit), I decided to focus it on how the town was coming together to help each other out. Overall it was a very touching experience and I hope someday I'll be able to go back and see the small town of Berkeley (as well as the rest of the St. Louis area) rebuilt.




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When Dull Turns Into Interesting...

From plane rides to gas leaks, and a contest to spread awareness about a rare form of cancer, I've had an interesting month at KOMU.

Since I live report on Fridays, my stories can be pretty dull, but I try to find a way to make them newsworthy and interesting. I did have an exciting Friday last week when a man involved in a Jefferson City murder was caught. Then right before my 6 p.m. liveshot, the JC PIO pulled up to tell me they had caught a second man involved.
Click here to read the full story.

Here are a few other stories I've done/worked on in the past few weeks at KOMU and Newsy:
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Multiple Sources, The Real Story

As you may have noticed... Newsy stories have appeared on AOL News Videos in the past few weeks. Reproduced as "AOL News Now," Newsy videos are now available from one of the top news providers in the world.

Here are a few of my favorite Newsy stories I've done in the past few weeks... click on the title to read the transcript or watch the video:


Victim-Blaming In Child Gang Rape Story?


Multisource political news, world news, and entertainment news analysis by Newsy.com


Does Nessie Have An English Cousin?


Multisource political news, world news, and entertainment news analysis by Newsy.com




JPMorgan Investing $450 Million in Twitter?


Multisource political news, world news, and entertainment news analysis by Newsy.com



NY Considers Cap On Medical Malpractice:


Multisource political news, world news, and entertainment news analysis by Newsy.com



DNA Testing In The Future For Airports?


Multisource political news, world news, and entertainment news analysis by Newsy.com


Is Anonymous’ Bank of America Leak Real?


Multisource political news, world news, and entertainment news analysis by Newsy.com

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In Memory Of A DIPG Warrior

There are DIPG warriors and angels. He was once a warrior and now he is an angel. His name is Zac Talley and he was 7-years-old when a rare form of cancer that only affects 200 children in the US a year took his life. But he was not just a child suffering from cancer, he was also a child that loved horses, Uno, and cracking jokes. Family says he was wise beyond his age.

I met his amazing family and friends this week and I want to tell you all about them.

Chrystal Terrell is his mother. She is sweet, kind, caring, and among one of the strongest people I have met. She has taken this tragedy and turned it into something good. When talking about Zac she smiles and laughs at the memories, and when she cries she says she shouldn't because Zac would be mad at her during those moments. In Zac's memory she created the Zac Attack Foundation. She hopes to spread awareness about diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, the cancer Zac had. She hopes enough awareness will lead to a cure.

Tyler is Zac's best friend and twin. Nothing could separate the two. They did practically everything together. Tyler loves looking back at the time that Zac put underwear on his head and pretended to be Captain Underpants. He and Zac played a lot of baseball together, as well as many other sports. He and Zac shared that twin connection you always hear about. He doesn't go anywhere now without wearing a Zac Attack shirt in Zac's memory.

Brandon is Zac's older brother. He's a bit shy, but isn't tepid at all when it comes to talking about his brother. Brandon says he remembers Zac's smile and says life would be much easier if Zac were here now. He misses shooting hoops with Zac.

Megan is Zac's sister. She says because of Zac's love for horses she is inspired to become a veterinarian. She remembers reading the bible next to Zac's bedside when he was in a coma and he couldn't make it to church. A sparkle seems to twinkle in her eye when she talks about Zac.

Zac also has other brother and sisters and there was no question he loved them too. Terrell said one of the family's favorite memories is when Zac decided to take his family on a vacation to Tennessee through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Terrell said Zac had the choice of going to Disney World, but instead choose Tennessee so he could bring along his five brothers, sister, mom, and step-dad.

Finally there is Kristina Maddox. She is a family friend keeping Zac's spirit alive in a way so big no one could ever imagine. Kristina decided to enter the Toyota Racing Sponsafy Your Ride contest to create a car in memory of Zac and to raise awareness about DIPG. Now she's asking for the community's help to win this contest. Maddox is an interactive digital media major at North West University in Maryville. She created the car green with baseballs on it because Talley played for the North Callaway little league team. It reads "DIPG Warriors" and "Zac Attack" on the car. With the eighth car out of more than 40,000 cars, she may get that wish. The top 10 cars will be featured on TV during the Nascar Sprint All-Star race. The winning design will be applied to a real race car. People can vote once a day until March 21. Kristina says he grew up with Zac and hopes this contest will bring DIPG awareness to a national platform.

Everyday we hear of people dying. But behind each of those deaths is a family mourning and grieving. To hear those families share those memories feels as if that person has come back alive. I will never forget the Talley's and Maddox's.

Zac seemed like an incredible little boy and I wish I had the chance to meet him. I hope he continues to inspire people like me in the years to come.



From A Reporter's Viewpoint

As a reporter, there was one story that stuck out to me. Before interviewing Megan, I asked if she had ever been interviewed before. She told me once right after her brother passed away she was walking away from her softball game when a reporter ran up to her and thrust a microphone in her face asking "are you the girl whose brother died?" I was stunned when she told me this. It's something she will never forget... It saddens me when reporters don't take in consideration a person's feelings, especially a young girl like Megan. They may argue that they need a story, but my response is good luck getting a good story that way or rather good luck getting a story at all.

It was a struggle writing this story because I wanted to share everything, I wanted to include everyone, but unfortunately I didn't have time. Even the stories above I wrote above are only a quarter of what I learned about the family. I've also been trying to do different things with my stories and I really don't think the intro worked... but you can watch for yourself!



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An Array Of Stories From The Past Few Weeks

Since life has been so busy, I haven't gotten a chance to update you all on my happenings. Below is a few stories I've worked on in the past couple of weeks!!

Packages:
Union Supporters, Tea Party Groups Rally At Capitol



VO's/VOSOT's:
Man Shot At Gas Station:



Anti-Abortion Prayer Vigil:



Live:
Columbia Superintendent Wants To Get Rid Of Mobile Classrooms




Onsets:

City Manager Chooses Replacement For Transition


 
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