I think of this incident whenever a mass shooting happens in this country.
Here is a slightly-revised story I wrote several years ago about a mass shooting event I covered as a young reporter in Grand Prairie.
It was a hot morning in 1982 when I crouched behind a pile of lumber with several frightened, distraught and concerned workers at a warehouse in Grand Prairie, unsure whether a gunman who had killed and wounded several people was still lurking.
The day was Aug. 9, 1982, and John Felton Parish was on a killing spree, shooting and killing six people and wounding at least three others at two warehouses. I was a reporter at the Grand Prairie Daily News and soon after I arrived at the office that day, we heard over the police scanner about a shooting at a warehouse on the north side of town. I rushed to the scene, not knowing whether we were heading to a false report of a shooting or a simple domestic dispute. By the time we got there, police sirens wailed throughout the city. We had little idea we were rushing to the scene of what was considered the worst shooting spree in Dallas-Fort Worth up to that time.
Parish’s rampage involved two locations and he eventually led police on a high-speed chase that ended when he drove a hijacked truck through a police barricade and crashed into a building. He was then killed by police in a shootout. It was all over in less than 30 minutes. Tension crackled through the air and adrenaline rushed through our bodies as we tried to make sense of a chaotic, topsy-turvy scene of destruction.
I won’t forget the woman crouched behind the lumber pile with me who had earlier witnessed one of the killings. It sounds cliché, but the horror was written on her face.
After we gathered information at the scene, one of the police vehicles tore off in a rush. Another police officer told me that Parish had crashed on Main Street. As we interviewed witnesses there, an incongruous moment occurred. The manager of the Whataburger there brought food out for the police officers and emergency personnel. The manager then came over and motioned for me to get some coffee. I demurred, saying it was for those working the scene.
“You’re working hard, too. Have some coffee,” he said, more of an order than an offer. Maybe it was his simple act of humanity in that most inhuman of moments, but I never forgot his kindness.
The story was big. Our editor did an interview with The New York Times. For a while Grand Prairie was the center of attention for all the wrong reasons.
Our goal as reporters was to answer the key questions as to what happened – who, what, when, where, why and how. We did a good job of answering all but the “why.”
We tried though, but Parish took the answers to the grave, if he even knew himself.
When you’re caught up in a maelstrom of events, you’ve got to do the best you can, whether a police officer, an emergency worker or a reporter. Are you ever really prepared? I wasn’t.
But the key question, “Why”? Like trying to grasp finely-grained sand, it remains eternally elusive.
Robert Francis is editor of Fort Worth Business Press