As a news reporter, you emotionally block out what has happened at a crime scene while the questions keep spilling inside your head. You are trying to find the facts and a story that other media outlets may not have in their broadcasts or print.
First, you are driving down streets, main ones and side roads, trying to reach close, respecting law enforcement closing them down. But knowing the area was a plus for me.
Route 31 was a conduit for police units. In one case, siren-screaming, lights flashing Aurora Police escorted five possible federal unmarked squad SUVs through stop lights, around traffic, and in the opposite lane.
At my first stop, the Aurora Police had a drone and a large orange sign with a black H on the ground. Later I learned that H stood for a landing site for a police helicopter on Highland Avenue just north from the Henry Pratt factory. The arriving officer walked to the scene with his barrelled tear gas weapon.
Next at Woodlawn Ave., I walked between two houses towards the police-ambulances-fire trucks-command unit staging area, where five residents watched outside in the bitter 17 degree temperatures.
One officer stopped me, questioning why I was walking inside the perimeter, allowing me to continue. I was inside the zone, “the hot zone” as another officer labeled it, still an an active shooter scene at 2:20 p.m. Once inside a pizza business, used as a police staging area, it was strange to be surrounded by over 100 officers awaiting their directions. That’s also when 10 Elgin Police Department SWAT members walked by me.
At Provena Mercy Hospital, I saw two families waiting for good or bad news in the main foyer. Two Aurora Police officers blocked the entrance to me, one with a rifle in a sling across his chest. Everywhere I went, including Aurora University for the victims family area to the Pratt building off Marshall and Highland, Chicago TV had their cameras poised.
On to the Aurora Police Building, I travelled for a 5 p.m. briefing. Media streamed in, 12 cameras positioned to record it, and even Milwaukee Channel 6 there. Print journalists were typing frantically, posting website updates.
But it was the 9:20 briefing that gave us the facts to our eight-hour old questions. I had gained a front row seat in front of the podium, strewn with TV flagged microphones. Behind me big tripod cameras aimed and bright lights readied.
In asking questions, you have to share with other reporters, you have to be brief and to the point. In preparation, I had over 20 questions prioritized. I was hoping to squeeze in just one in the media questioning frenzy. Any pause or slowing down by Aurora Police Chief Kristin Ziman, I fired away.
Later, I reached out to an Aurora Police Officer.
Here is what I gleaned.
The officer said as ensuing police enter the building, it is against human nature to not stop and help the victims, stating “you are trained to step over people because your goal is to take the shooter out to prevent more victims.”
As the officer told the wait for backup or to enter decision by those first arriving, “depends on if are you brave enough to go in.” Those first Aurora officers had courage Friday afternoon.
Hours after the tragic day wore on, Aurora police cars, of those officers shot, still had their red and blue lights flashing in the factory parking lot.
You can listen to Mark Harrington's full radio story, below: