Last week was shaping up to be a slow week as I prepared to leave Austin, for Northern New Mexico to spend time with the Harris family, the people in the Voluntary Simplicity – America Downsizing project. On Wednesday I was asked to shoot an energy story for the Times on Friday morning in Taylor so I decided to stick around and leave from the shoot and file from the road.
Thursday, I was preparing for the trip and wrapping up a few things. Printing, typing, trimming and about to begin stitching Zulu at 100 books when I got a phone call… At about 2:20 an editor at Getty Images in New York called and asked if I could look into a suspected shooting at Ft. Hood in Killeen. I asked her when she wanted me to go and she said umm NOW. Immediatley after we hung up the New York Times called and then the Dallas Morning News… This was major and I was out the door not knowing what was going on as there wasn’t much information available to the public at the time. As I approached Killeen I learned more from the public radio stations.
About an hour later I arrived in Killeen and went straight to the main gate of Ft. Hood. I had no idea what to expect and only knew that I had just missed a press conference. I hurriedly parked and immediately began shooting civilians, military family members and soldiers in the parking lot. I think a lot of hysteria in the parking lot near the main gate was result of a lack of information. We learned soon there after 12 people had died and 30 more were injured in what the radio was calling a massacre.
After making some images I left the main gate to file my pictures as it was nearing newspapers’ deadline times. This was a very real situation that became serious quickly and the world needed to see what was going on, which was frustrating because it was so heavily restricted. No one can control any one’s reactions to such a horrible event and this became the first photos I sent to New York.
The above photo was a very difficult situation as this distraught woman had no idea where her husband was and was unable to communicate with him. Monica Cain, above, explained in broken english that her husband Darren had only gone to the base that day for a minor doctors appointment. She was overwhelmed that after he was first injured in Iraq, now he came home to an attack within his own base. They had moved to Killeen only 4 months ago from Hawaii. A few journalists photographed her with long lenses and me and another got closer. I stuck around and although very difficult I found my presence with her more helpful than if she were alone with her children. As I was kneeling near her car, where this photo was made, she began to vomit from the stress and apoligized. I ran to my car and brought her my nalgene of water and she thankfully drank. She continued calling family members and tried to make contact to no avail causing her to burst into more tears, fearing the worst. When I came back after filing photos, she had gone, I found my water bottle on the curb where her car had been parked.
I came back and the sun was setting. A slew of journalists milled around the main gate at Ft. Hood waiting on a press conference where 3-star Gen. Robert Cone would speak about the massacre that took place. I found some soldiers waiting to hear from family inside the gates and stood with them until the general appearred. As I waited I began getting text messages from my editor that papers and websites were using my images on the fronts of their publications and friends from all over sent me words of encouragement. It was amazing how fast the images I made had made an impact. I felt strange to benefit in any way from the distress and trauma of others as messages of congratulations came, but I knew that I was doing a good thing telling these people’s story. I was just doing my job.
Almost 3 hours after the announced time. Gen. Cone showed up for his press conference and explained the days tragedy. I filed and got home around midnight. Friday morning came and I did my morning Times assignment and went straight back to Killeen looking for community reaction photos. It seemed to me that the community had for the most part become numb to the previous days events. I went to churches, high schools, blood drives and restaurants searching for reactions. A moment of silence took place, but didn’t resonate in the community off base. It was surreal to me, as if people weren’t reacting. Eventually, i went to the home of the suspect Mjr. Hasan and photographed the owner of the complex who felt guilt for harboring such a man unknowingly.
I eventually learned that 13 newspapers had published my images of Monica Cain and the two soldiers hugging on their covers. I felt odd to be proud of this, but knew that it was a privilege I was able to tell these people’s story and know that I did the best I could as a person and photographer.
I left Friday night for New Mexico after filing some follow up reaction photos from Killeen and have been here for 3 days. It was a crazy experience, but I felt comfortable and prepared for covering the story. I hope things settle in their community sooner than later.