by Melissa Brunner
I know we're already a week into 2013, but I can't help but catch my breath and reflect on how much happened during 2012.
A new station always seeks to report the news - not to make it - but, in 2012, we found ourselves in the headlines twice for less-than-pleasant reasons. I'll never forget the 5pm news on Jan. 5, 2012. I was told we were turning our eagle eye camera to the old Menninger Hill for a huge fire. Before my eyes, I watched our former station building engulfed in huge flames, sending up a plume of thick, black smoke seen from miles away. So much history - personally, professionally and for television in general - built over decades, destroyed in hours. Authorities deemed it arson. So far, no arrests.
I also remember the morning of May 23rd. Sitting at home, I read an innocent Facebook comment which had me wondering if something happened at the TV station down the road. I texted my husband (chief photographer Doug Brown), who responded, "We're all ok." That was the day a man identified as Ray Miles broke through the front glass doors. He's since been convicted of assaulting several co-workers, stabbing two of them. I arrived at work later that day to blood stains on the hallway carpet and crunching on shattered glass as I walked to the front lobby. We couldn't be more thankful the situation didn't turn out worse than it did.
Three stories I covered will also stay with me for the depths of their tragedy. In March, I was called upon to cover the sexual assault and murder of eight-year-old Aliyah Irvin. The family agreed to an interview and, when her grandmother and great aunt approached, tears in their eyes, clutching her photo, all I could do was give them a hug. The suspect is due to stand trial this spring.
I took a day off in May to watch my nephew's baseball team play in the state tournament. On the way back, before heading to his younger brother's t-ball game, my neighbor tweeted me to ask if I could share a photo of a friend who had not returned home from a job earlier in the day. You hope and pray that this is just a case of teenager being absent minded about telling people where she was headed. By the time the t-ball game was over, we saw the helicopters circling. I was called in to do a 10pm live report at the Law Enforcement Center, where Sheriff Herman Jones confirmed moments before going on the air - 18-year-old Brenna Morgart had been found murdered. Amidst all the sadness, though, I found inspiration in how her family and friends and even those who didn't know her vowed to carry on her generous, caring spirit. To this day, in the northern part of the city and county, you'll see vehicles with WWBD - what would Brenna do? - imprinted on the windows.
The third story, of course, is the one that came just over a week before Christmas. My husband and I finished a sunset run when the first reports crossed Twitter - reports of a shooting outside a central Topeka grocery store. A while later, two officers reportedly injured. We headed into work and we started hearing rumors of the news that would be confirmed just before we hit the 10 pm news - Sgt. David Gogian and Officer Jeff Atherly were both killed in the line of duty. It was tragedy piled on top of tragedy - the previous Thursday, a little girl was killed in a dog attack; the previous Friday, 26 people were killed at a Connecticut elementary school. I flew to Wisconsin to visit family later that week and was struck by how close-knit the law enforcement community is when my sister introduced me to their school resource officer at an Oshkosh, WI restaurant. Turned out, he'd been watching our online coverage Sunday night.
As I'm writing this, I'm thinking it's a bit depressing that this is how I'm summing up 2012. But I also look at the bright side - all of these events seemed to galvanize our community - be it our workplace community or the community at large. It made us strong, made us closer and made us realize that we need to work together to keep anything like these events from happening again. Let's remember that feeling and that commitment to each other as we dive in to 2013!