By Shannon Stapleton
I woke on the morning of July 20th happy and looking forward to a great weekend with my son at his last lacrosse tournament of the season.
That feeling of happiness changed quickly when I looked on the phone and it said “Can you get on a plane to Denver as soon as possible, there has been a mass shooting at the screening of Batman with 12 people dead and numerous injured.” My heart started to race and all I could think of was how just five months prior I had responded to the senseless killing of three high school students in Chardon, Ohio. A place close to my heart because it was near where I grew up and had played my last high school football in 1987.
Colorado and the Rocky Mountains have also been a place of very fond memories in my life. I spent the years of 1991 to 1995 there and never forgot the majestic feeling of the mountain lifestyle. I just couldn’t believe this was happening again and especially in the Denver area where I cherished the years spent in the region.
My wife woke and asked what was wrong as I was trying to gather my thoughts, answer emails and figure out the quickest flight out. I said there was a mass killing in Denver and I had to leave as soon as possible. I told her I was sorry because my daughter was supposed to have her first sleep over at our house and I was supposed to take my son to Pennsylvania for his lacrosse tournament. All those plans would have to be scrapped as I frantically tried to book a plane flight out of New York. This is my job – I signed up for this and she knows that. Covering the big assignment is why I became a photojournalist. Explaining to your kids that Daddy has to leave right now is never easy and trying to explain why even harder. I booked a flight, packed my bags and said I love them and would see them in a week.
In my career I have covered my share of death, despair and sorrow. It never gets easier to prepare for mentally. Anybody that says it does is fooling themselves. I knew to expect the sorrow and grief that would emanate through the family, friends and the entire community. But you can’t prepare yourself for the woman who lost her 6 year old niece, the kids who lost a classmate or the overall sorrow that such a tragic event can have on a community. Grief is genuine and not something that can be faked. Capturing the images surrounding such a tragic event is why a photograph is worth a thousand words.