Wednesday, July 7, 2010

the 911 call

I was on call last week.

At TV20 when you're, "on-call," that means in addition to your normal slave- I mean, work-week, you have to respond to any "breaking news" that happens before or after your shift.

Last Tuesday, I got a call from my assignment desk around 8:30 in the morning.

I was told there had been a shooting inside a Gainesville neighborhood, deputies were on scene, and to "get there fast."

I ran out the door, threw my camera and tripod in the trunk of the TV20 chevy I had been rocking since my on-call shift started that Friday, and raced to the address, (I guess the good thing about being on call is, you get to drive a Home Team wagon for a week- and TV20 fills up the tank).

When I got to the neighborhood, Alachua County Sheriffs Deputies were blocking the "no outlet" street that led to the location of the shooting. I was told a 16-year-old male had been shot to death inside his home, and deputies had no suspect.

I set up my tripod and camera.

Just as I was asking deputies if I could get closer to the scene, I saw a medical examiners truck coming my way. I ran to my camera and hit record.

When the truck reached the stop sign behind me, I kept rolling and stepped away from my camera. At that moment, a ray of sunlight hit the back window of the medical examiner's truck... I saw a covered body.

The truck pulled away, and for a few seconds, I stood still. My thoughts were paralyzing.

After speaking with the P.I.O on scene, I learned that 16-year-old Sebastian Ochsenius was inside his home, playing video games with a friend. Around 3:30 AM, he got up and walked to the kitchen. According to Sebastian's friend, (who stayed behind in the game room) moments later- multiple gun shots were fired.

Sebastian's parents were awakened, only to find their son bleeding to death on the kitchen floor.

Last night, deputies released the 911 call made by Sebastian's dad, Boris.

My news director had it in his hands by 7PM.

He asked that we all stick around and listen to it, and make a group decision whether or not we should broadcast the call on the 11:00 news that night.

It took only about 2 minutes for me to make my decision.

When I felt my eyes welling up with tears, I walked away from the newsroom. I didn't want my emotions affecting how my co-workers reacted to the call.

Inside the break room, I closed my eyes and began to sob. For me, the 911 call added details to a horrifying portrait I had already painted in my mind. Three days after Sebastian's murder, the Ochsenius family welcomed me inside their home. Sebastian's dad Boris described how his son died in his arms. He was holding Sebastian with one hand-and talking to a 911 operator with the other.

Speaking to Sebastian's father, Boris Ochsenius
Candlelight Vigil July 2, 2010

The 911 call had absolutely no news value. After the 5-minute call ended, I composed myself and walked back into the newsroom. My co-workers and I talked for 20 minutes- each of us expressing our opinions on whether the call should be broadcast.

I expressed my strong feelings against airing the call- saying it would do more harm than good.

One of my co-workers asked if my decision was based on the fact that I knew the family- and had developed a relationship with them.

As a human being with a heart, I knew it was unethical to broadcast the call. My decision would have been the same whether or not I had developed a relationship with the family. In no way would airing the call on the 11:00 news have helped detectives find Sebastian's killer, (who is still on the loose), nor would it have benefited the community- particularly Sebastian's family and friends.

I'm a journalist... but I'm a person first, and I'm not above anyone. When it comes down to it, viewers are no different than I...and if Sebastian was my brother, I wouldn't want my father's 911 call broadcast to the world.

Sebastian's sister Carolina, painting Gainesville's 34th Street Wall
June 30, 2010

Yea there's good news and bad news, but in the end- the ultimate goal of what we broadcast is to reveal truth- in hopes that will bring us all toward a greater good-whatever that might be.

Journalists are messengers- we bear a great power, one we mustn't keep but pass on to the people; whose best interest should always be at heart, especially when we're tested in covering life's most challenging stories.

Sebastian Ochsenius
December 3, 1993 - June 29, 2010

...and in the end, TV20 didn't air the 911 call.

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