There is a time to mourn the dead, and then there is a time to confront the threat. All we can do as reporters is tell the story. Not just one side or two sides, but all sides of the story. This is why we dedicated most of this issue to the Kirkwood City Council shooting, which took place 10 years ago.
Through five months of extensive research, we sought out the stories that have not yet been told, the people who dedicated their lives to rebuild a broken community. Most importantly, we wanted to bring truth to the surface. The truth within the different moments and details in the lives of our neighbors. The moment Tom Ballman’s daughter felt something was wrong the day of the shooting prior to knowing her father had died. The moment a non-Meacham Park church opened its doors to host the gunman’s funeral.
Mass shootings change people, society and eventually policies. This shooting happened 4.6 miles away from Webster’s home campus. No one could’ve predicted a tragedy with such proximity.
The students in Florida did not expect one of their own to march in with his AR-15 rifle, and take 17 lives with him. The same goes for those who were at Orlando’s club and Las Vegas’ music festival. It’s becoming a virus in this country’s bloodstream.
While reporting the project, we learned mass shootings continue to affect victims years after the tragedy. At Kirkwood, 72 seconds drastically altered not only individual lives, but the atmosphere of an entire community. The 72-second long recording of the shooting will forever hold the sounds of terror and death within its waves. Former mayor Arthur McDonnell has the audio clip. He refuses to hit play and relive the moment which inevitably took six lives away.
The events at Kirkwood still impact those who lived through it. When they shared their stories with us, it was evident the wounds from this tragedy were still fresh. We sat across from them while they laughed, cried and entrusted us with their most vulnerable selves. They did not owe us their stories, but we wanted to give them a platform to voice their perspective.
We learned to look deeper than the surface. There are stories waiting to be told, hidden or perhaps forgotten by the public eye. We learned to listen. We learned to accept the silence and let those we spoke with take the time to gather their thoughts and fill the sometimes uncomfortable silence.
We learned to be human. These people and stories are more than clicks on a page. The stories shared and the connections made are ones we will treasure and hold onto longer than our excitement for page hits.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons we learned was how valuable community is after tragedy. The two memorials represented a community attempting to overcome an event that has defined them for the last decade. They do not know what the future holds, but they hold onto each other for comfort and guidance.
When Cookie shot and killed six people 10 years ago, the communities needed to come together. They needed to get closer to each other, and they didn’t. Rehashing this event isn’t going to change what happened, but maybe it will change where the community will choose to go from here.