Moments after a brutal attack began at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Friday, Shannon Hicks sped to the scene. She was responding in two capacities: as a volunteer firefighter, and as an employee of the local weekly newspaper, The Newtown Bee.
After arriving on the heels of the first batch of responders, Hicks juggled responsibilities in her two roles. Along the way, she helped define a senseless tragedy that has yet to be fully understood, or explained.
As she tells the Poynter Institute, Hicks was at the Bee’s offices when the alert of a shooting went out on a police scanner. She immediately drove to Sandy Hook Elementary, less than two miles away.
When she pulled up, Hicks saw a line of children being led away. She snapped a photograph, with one hand on the wheel and the other holding her camera. Soon afterward, the image was beamed by news TV channels and websites, as her newspaper complied with a request from the AP to provide the photo for wider distribution.
For many people, that photo has become a lasting image of the horrible tragedy in Newtown, capturing the innocence of the young children at the school, and the terror and panic that erupted when a gunman opened fire inside its walls.
As Poynter’s Julie Moos writes, after she took the photo, Hicks stayed on the scene as an associate editor of her paper. But when another editor arrived, she changed into her firefighting uniform and tried to help. Afterward, she returned to work at the newspaper’s offices.
Of her photograph’s wide dissemination, Hicks says she has mixed feelings — especially because in the tragedy’s aftermath, many view it is inappropriate for news media to interview or photograph children who were at the school.
As Poynter’s Julie Moos writes:
“Hicks was aware the photo was on the front page of Saturday’s New York Times (her mother told her), but was unaware it was on the cover of many other newspapers across the U.S.
“‘I’m conflicted,’ she said. ‘I don’t want people to be upset with me, and I do appreciate the journalists, especially, who have commented, saying ‘We’re just documenting the news.’”
“It’s harder when it’s in your hometown and these are children we’re gonna watch grow up, the ones who made it. I know people are gonna be upset, but at the same time I felt I was doing something important.”
While it’s only published once a week, The Newtown Bee has used its website, Twitter feed and Facebook page to update its readers, and to relate how a community is enduring a tragedy that put its small town on the national map.