On the Fort Hood Tragedy

November 11th, 2009 | Photojournalism |

About a week ago, all was quiet at the photo desk front, just getting through the day, bringing me closer to my weekend when I would take my daughter shopping for a dress for her first dance. But Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had something more sinister in mind. By Thursday afternoon 19 children would lose a parent, leaving our nation shaken again, wondering once again what possesses a person to commit the cowardly act of shooting down unarmed people.

It didn’t take too much thought, 20 minutes after we learned of the massacre, staff photographer Edward Ornelas was tapped to go. He was standing in the middle of his living room surrounded by his gear and personals he would need for his trip to Afghanistan, wondering what to pack, when he got the call from director of photography, Bob Owen.

It’s a good two and half hour drive to Fort Hood and we weren’t sure what Edward was going to get, but the important thing is that he would be in place for the difficult days ahead. Just 24 hours after his arrival he would make, what is for me, one of the most memorable pictures in the follow-up coverage of the Fort Hood massacre, capturing the grief of the army post and the nation; a soldier standing at attention while a tear ran down his face.

In Austin, freelance photographer Jack Plunkett had just arrived at home after running some errands. He switched on CNN and listened as the story was breaking. He was contemplating heading to Fort Hood when LM Otero of the Associated Press called and asked if he could get to Fort Hood quickly. That was about 3:15 p.m., two hours later Jack would move a photo of a distraught woman being comforted by her husband. That picture would grace the front pages of many Texas newspapers and beyond.

The pictures of the gunman, the victims, the investigation and the agony continued to move, reminding me every day that a terrible tragic event had taken place and many people were hurting, a job that belongs to journalists and one they did very well this past week.

The coverage culminated with a solemn ceremony, honoring the 13 killed. Over 100 photojournalists were there and one can only imagine how many thousands of pictures were made. One of those images, made by Rodolfo Gonzalez of the Austin American Statesman, of Pfc. Aaron Nemelka’s mom crying at his fallen soldier memorial, is like her grief, almost too much to bear. It is a picture I hope everyone sees.—Anita Baca

Must see: Jay Janner’s blog entry for Nov. 5, Fort Hood Tradegy

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