Why The Virginia Shooting Hit Close to Home For Me, a 20-Something in Boston

Every day, I walk to the train station, secure my seat by the train door, ride into Boston, stop by Starbucks for a quick fix and beep myself into the lobby of 7News.

My day-to-day concerns generally consist of making the train on time, getting anxious when people stand too close to me on the train, and being carefully aware of my surroundings as I wander the busy streets of downtown Boston.

Rarely, if ever, does it occur to me that I might find myself in a position where my safety could be compromised. It has never occurred to me that I could be in mortal danger by simply going to my job. If I leave work late or find myself navigating through a less familiar area of the city, I make a point to be vigilant; I have my keys in my  hand, my hand on my purse, my eyes scanning the area.

But when I enter the newsroom, I feel safe.

Today, for the first time since I entered the journalism industry, I did not feel 100% safe. I spent the first half of my day in the newsroom, scrolling through Twitter and reading the national wires, searching for answers after an unthinkable crime against two young  journalists. I fought back waves of nausea and tears as I aggressively avoided clicking on videos that were unbelievably disturbing. I spent the second half of my day reconciling the brutal truth of the very real danger I may face if I want to follow my dreams.

Early this morning, 24-year-old Alison Parker, a reporter for a television news station in Virginia, and her cameraman, 27-year-old Adam Ward, were gunned down by a man who has since been referred to as a “disgruntled former employee,” who not only fired several shots at the two journalists at nearly point-blank range, but also posted video footage of the incident almost immediately after their deaths on social media.

The story unfolded painfully slowly, and my shock soon turned into despair and despair manifested itself as a knot in my throat and a stomach so unsettled my only option was to take frequent deep breaths and eye-rubbing breaks. It was not, however, until I started reading tweets by Alison Parker’s boyfriend, anchor Chris Hurst, that the tears came.

Alison graduated from college the same year I did. She was praised by many as being a capable, budding journalist just starting out on her career. She had been dating her colleague for nearly a year, had just moved in with him and the two were thinking about marriage. Hurst turned to Twitter afterwards, thanking his colleagues for their love and support, calling the news station “a family.” He said Alison was the most radiant woman he had ever met, and he never understood why she loved him as much as she did.

I read all the books in my journalism training; the ones that detailed the dangers of being a journalist, of pushing the boundaries and fighting for a story that could affect real change. I covered the beheading of New Hampshire journalist James Foley by the terrorist group ISIS in the summer of 2014 and saw, first hand, the very real fate that journalists face.

This wasn’t one of those times. This wasn’t a journalist going undercover to expose a drug cartel in a third-world country; this wasn’t a journalist on the front lines of war, reporting home to shed light on soldiers’ plight. This was a journalist covering a lighthearted story, a run-of-the mill early morning news broadcast. This was the type of story every journalist — whether a green thumb reporter or well-respected anchor celebrating 30 years in the field — has covered. We’ve all been there. And we’ve all felt secure while interviewing willing subjects who are excited to share a feel-good story.

We shouldn’t have to look over our shoulders every time we leave on assignment. We shouldn’t have to turn a cynical eye on those around us; we have to do that enough already as it is.

We shouldn’t be fearful of packed movie theaters, or people who sit alone by themselves on trains or wary of over-friendly strangers. But now we have to be. Now, we have to look over our shoulders at every step, forego full concentration during interviews to keep an eye on our surroundings, experience hesitation when heading out on a routine assignment.

All I’ve ever wanted to do is to be a journalist. I had dreamt of investigating hard-hitting news, of following in-depth stories, of covering presidential campaigns and, inevitably, scandals. I wanted to use my passion for good, to expose greater truths and tell stories that could affect change. Just last night, I sat at my computer, researching ways I could further my journalism education and experience. Yesterday it was exciting to think of the endless possibilities of on-site assignments and uncovering truths. Tonight, it’s a bleak prognosis for an uncertain career.

This isn’t the time nor the place to discuss gun control or mental health support. This is a stark reminder of the very real danger that faces all of us, regardless of profession, every day. These two unnecessary deaths serve as a reminder that our country needs to step up to the plate, to find a way to set aside politics and personal agendas to find a way to prevent any more tragedies such as this.

I may live in an ideal world where a solution is  possible. But I’d rather live here than a place where despair and tragedy are the norm.

 

Gillian Smith

Gillian is a videographer by day and a writer by night. A native of Boston, MA, she is a loyal Red Sox fan, company member of DanceWorks Boston, and lover of baked goods. She does not eat ketchup.

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