Baton Rouge crime scene
Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

The Rev. W. Marshall Myles lamented to his congregation at New St. John Baptist Church on a recent Sunday that he felt “so low that I had to reach up to touch down.”

I think there were many people feeling like that in a few neighborhoods around Baton Rouge on Valentine’s Day after word spread that three young men were shot dead in separate incidents. Surely there were relatives and friends of the dead who were left speechless and crushed.

And it was all senseless. One was killed as he was trying to illegally enter a house when a resident shot and killed him. The other two were killed in random shootings.

After the news of these deaths sank in, it caused me to think about those many years ago when I was a young police reporter for the State-Times newspaper in Baton Rouge. It was exciting to cover everything from robberies to fires to, yes, murders. I was pretty good at interviewing people who were witnesses, along with the grieving families and friends of murder victims.

Initially, going to a murder scene — or, as police call it, a homicide — I would be shocked at the pain I saw etched on the faces of the victims’ families. It was extremely bad when the victim was a child. Emotions were so raw sometimes that I had to take a few deep breaths before I could do my job.

But as those killing scenes continued to play themselves out, I became almost robotic in the way I moved through crowds of weeping people. I would wade in and find the brother, sister, parents, cousin or best friend and somehow convince them to talk to me. 

The facts were important, but I could get those from law enforcement authorities. What I wanted was the raw emotion and devastation that the family and friends could provide. It got to a point that I rarely missed out on at least one key person talking to me.

It was almost automatic. I was virtually emotionless. Once I turned in my story, it was on to the next death.

As I got older though, I began to loathe those kind of stories. The faces of moms, dads, and friends began to run together. I would see some of the victims’ relatives at the store and other places.

But it would eat at me that in nine out of 10 of the deaths I covered, the victims were people who looked like me. The grieving families reminded me of my grandmother and other relatives and friends.

What hurts now is that I feel that not enough people are hurt about what is happening. This should be a story that everyone is swept up in. Three young people killed several hours apart in Baton Rouge.

Had I been on the police beat the other day, I probably would have had to cover at least two of those killings — maybe all three. On my best day, I could have written the “just the facts ma’am” version of all of them. Then I would have gone out at night and tried to interview the families.

I’m not that guy, that dispassionate reporter anymore. I feel the pain of the parents, relatives and friends. I have seen by my family and friends' experiences those horrible days of grief, and it has made me acutely aware of the wreckage these types of sad days can have on a community, on my friends. I hate it.

I feel the pain of those heartbroken relatives when I watch them being interviewed on TV. Borrowing another one of Rev. Myles’ favorite sayings, “Sometimes I feel so low that I have to tiptoe to see the bottom.”

Email Edward Pratt, a south Louisiana freelance writer, at epratt1972@yahoo.com.