Rarely do I have the pleasure of working the dayside shift on a Sunday, but today I traded shifts with another photog at my shop in order to watch tonight's broadcast of the 2013 WWE Royal Rumble with a group of my brethren news makers. Please excuse that and immediately dismiss it without passing any judgement on me. Thank you in advance.
Today's story was a toss up - it could go in one of several directions, all of which ended with us doing a live shot at 6, just one block away from where a father of five lost his life to the barrel of a gun.
We had the overnight video. We had the interview from the sheriff's department. We had the nuts and bolts. What we needed was the blue print of the design. Who was this man? What was his name? What skeletons did he have in his closet? Why did this even happen?
Reporter Catherine Bilkey and I arrived to the scene of the crime around 10:30am - A small ranch style brick home, resting about thirty yards off of a narrow road in rural York County, South Carolina. The detectives were still conducting their investigation, and the quiet breeze bounced the yellow caution tape they had roped the property off with.
We found a place to park and I unloaded my gear. I popped off about ten wallpaper shots to cover the package for later and then we saw her - this dead man's fiancé. Upon our initial approach, one of the detectives advised that it wasn't a good time. We obliged and I held back as Catherine approached and offered condolences, all genuine, but also in an effort to persuade her into talking to us. She wasn't ready...
We found a neighbor who offered some insight as to what may have led to the shooting, and he indeed confirmed our suspicions: this was likely the product of some sort of illegal activity gone wrong.
We did our noon live vo/sot and drove into town to find some lunch and proper plumbing and then returned. And there she was again. Just standing along the side of the road, inches from the caution tape, staring... At what I'm not quite sure, but we decided to give it another try, and this time she obliged our request to find out who this man was - to put a face with his name and not just chalk him up to another statistic.
Her name is Channon Forte and her recently deceased fiancé's name was Shannon Jenkins. The man who shot and killed Shannon is Vincent Bratton. We didn't probe into the specifics of how this happened, or exactly for what reason. It wasn't imperative to the story we were trying to tell today - his story.
In a compassionate fashion, Catherine just asked Channon: "just tell me about him", "what was he like?", "what's going on in your mind right now?", "how are you doing?".
Surprisingly enough, she opened up with one liners that news junkies dream of. With tears in her eyes she choked out things like ""Our son just turned 2 in November. How am I going to explain to my kids that their father is not here?" - "He loved his kids, He didn't deserve this." - "From the day we met, day one, I knew that he was the one."
We thanked her for talking with us and she had promised to email a photo or two of Shannon to us in the following hours. We parked the truck in our live locale, about a half mile round trip from where the crime had occurred, and as Catherine began logging the interview and writing her script I worked to establish our live signal and just kept mulling over the whole conversation we'd had with her.
Had Shannon been involved in some unsavory activity? Maybe, who knows? We didn't, and I'm thankful for that. It would have taken away from the raw emotion we'd captured by clouding it with speculation as to what might have been the cause for the shooting.
I worked on editing the package and as I pieced it together, we had all the elements: scene video, neighbor sound, sound with the fiancé - but as I watched this woman cry and weep over her loss, something was missing. We needed to see who this man was. Without a word, I grabbed my camera and exited the live truck and hiked my way back to the house where a gaggle of mourning family members had begun to gather.
Channon greeted me and I apologized for interrupting her unfortunate reunion with family, but asked again for the picture. She'd forgotten, and I can't find any cause for blame there. Emailing a picture of your recently deceased to an insistent news crew would be the last thing on my mind if I were in her shoes.
She found one for me and I shot it off her phone and returned to the truck to finish editing the story. Between clips of her tearful sobs, I edited in Shannon's picture and left it up for quite a while. We concluded the story with a plea from his fiancé: "Turn yourself in..."
Now, in my own naive little world, I'd like to think that maybe our story helped in that, because we found out that shortly after it aired, Vincent Bratton turned himself into the York Co. Sheriff's department.
I'm certain it's just coincidence, but amid the tragedy of today's story, I'm proud of the job we did. It might appear to some that we just followed the cookie cutter, "that's what you're supposed to do" method of putting together a story like this - but for me, it was a little different.
This woman was gracious enough to give us seven minutes of her time on what is arguably the worst day of her life, and I felt compelled to do the story justice. To go above and beyond the status quo and inflect some real emotion, into an otherwise typical story, that sadly... I am all to familiar with shooting.
You can view the story here.
Something was different about today and I can't quite put my finger on it, but I do know this: meeting Channon Forte reminded me that everyone is something to someone. Shannon Jenkins was her something: her fiancé, her provider, the father of her children, her great love. You cannot watch this story without that kind of emotion and sincerity piercing you in some little way.
Today I learned something about myself as a journalist, but more so, as a person: the grind we ride hasn't completely hardened me. I can still feel a little, and those feelings stir an urgency in me to do a story justice when it's otherwise doomed to become just another ninety seconds of television. I suppose I can thank Channon for that...