The phones started ringing around 3 a.m. as our sources began calling in.
Something big was going down at NAU, they said. Lots of sirens, lights and police tape.
Then it was the emergency responders’ turn as the call went out for more surgeons and the first ambulances began to arrive at the ER.
Chief Photographer Jake Bacon was the first to arrive at the scene as the eyewitnesses were still milling around. There had been a party, a fight, and a shooting in a parking lot, they said, and students had been killed and wounded. The shooter, also a student, they said, had been tackled and the police had him.
Not exactly like the mass shootings by heavily armed gunmen taking random victims at campuses all over the country. But you wouldn’t know it by the first NAU press release at 3:37 a.m.: Four unnamed “people” had been shot and the “shooter” – no description given -- was in custody. Details were to come at a 6 a.m. press conference. Was it any wonder that frantic parents were texting their children in the middle of the night to check on their safety?
We don’t mean to minimize the tragedy that occurred outside Mountain View Hall early Friday morning. And hindsight is always 20/20 vs. the blur of conflicting information that police always encounter in fast-moving, violent encounters.
But by late morning, when officials did provide more details – this was a fight between students coming out of a party – they went overboard in the other direction. The shooting, they said, was unprecedented and isolated, implying it could not have been anticipated or expected to happen again.
Journalism is nothing if not about supplying the contextual middle ground for just the kind of incident that took place Friday at NAU. It might not have been an anonymous shooter pulling the trigger on a high-powered weapon. But it was still a young male with access to a gun and the apparent intention to hurt a lot of people with it until someone stopped him.
Throughout the day, the Daily Sun followed the journalistic protocols that have become all too familiar with these incidents: Identify the suspect, then the victims; interview shocked students and sympathetic public officials; report on the initial court appearance and the details that prosecutors supply of the shooting; cover that night’s candlelight vigil for the victims.
This may be numbingly commonplace on the national nightly news, but when it is your city and campus experiencing mass-casualty gun violence for the first time, there is nothing routine about it. When friends and neighbors – even those here on a four-year pass -- die and suffer for no justifiable reason, their stories deserve to be told and the responsible party held accountable. The Mountain View shooting doesn’t have to fit a pattern to still hold meaning and significance. The Daily Sun will be staying on the story, even as the next “unprecedented” and “isolated” campus shooting somewhere else grabs the headlines.