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Sherman Says: Journalist in Newtown discovers broken hearts can’t be photographed

NEWTOWN, CONN. — At 11 minutes after 10 a.m. on Friday morning, a community newspaper in New England posted the following on its Facebook page: “State and Newtown police, ambulance and emergency response personnel responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shortly after 9:30 a.m. Friday, following reports of a shooting.

“One child was carried from the school by a police officer, apparently seriously wounded. The other children in the school are exiting the school, under state police protection. All of Newtown’s schools are in lockdown and the private schools in town have been notified of an alleged shooting being reported at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said the schools were placed on lockdown the morning of Friday, Dec. 14, ‘until we hear what is going on, there.’ Dr. Robinson said it is best if parents do not try to call the district, at this time, and the school district will release a message, once further information is known. The situation is evolving.”

Suddenly, The Newtown Bee was immersed in an unspeakable tragedy. Twenty children and six teachers had been shot and killed at Sandy Hook.

Associate Editor Shannon Hicks said she sets Fridays aside to organize and archive photos taken for online viewing and purchasing. She had a 10:30 assignment to take a photo at the meeting of the Church Women United.

Editor Curtiss Clark had been walking through the building and heard a transmission over the police/fire scanner that two ambulances were staging at a church in Sandy Hook. Other units were responding to a driveway, along “the west side the firehouse.” There is only one driveway there, the one that leads to the school.

“Would you like me to go?” she asked him.

Hicks called to alert her co-editor, John Voket, who had the day off. She drove right into the school parking lot and began taking photos, through the windshield, with one hand on the wheel and the other on her camera. It was 9:58. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, until she noticed parents in the lot talking on their cell phones. One man was simply screaming his child’s name.

Soon, she saw children walking out of the school in single file. And at 10:09 that morning, she raised her camera and took the photograph which has become the defining image of the Newtown tragedy. It captures a string of 16 children being walked to safety by state troopers and school officials.

Hicks said it was a long time before she and others realized “just how bad it turned out to be.” Passing her camera to Voket at the firehouse, she went to her vehicle and put on her turnout gear. She was now on scene, as a member of her local fire department. A fellow firefighter was looking for his children, as the classes emerged. One was safe, but the anxious wait continued, for a sighting of the second. When everyone in the small group spotted the child at the same instant, they blanketed him in affection.

“We heard there’s a wild animal out here,” the boy told them. The relieved adults could only smile and nod.

Some have criticized the newspaper and the Associated Press for releasing Hicks’ photo. Yet, it will speak volumes in our ongoing debate over gun control. Consider the words of a New York Times columnist written 150 years ago, regarding the public exhibition of photos that were taken by Mathew Brady, after the Battle of Antietam.

“Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. Homes have been made desolate and the light of life in thousands of hearts has been quenched forever. Broken hearts cannot be photographed.”

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York. Opinions are those of the author, who can be reached at
dsherman@beenews.com.
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