If I may wrap my head around the journalism of our big shooting story — and this is my site, so I say that I can — I’ll recall something I said to The Yankee on Sunday. She was driving as we headed home from our rafting excursion. I was reading aloud the emerging news on the Saturday night shooting.
“They might stumble at first, but The Plainsman staff will do a great job of covering this story.”
I said that with pride, knowing they might struggle a bit because they are, after all, students. But I know what they are capable of because I was a part of that staff once. And it has been a great paper for decades. And I was right. They did a great job covering the story. You can see their continuing coverage here.
If you are interested in how the sausage is made Dr. John Carvalho wrote a piece for The War Eagle Reader on the subject.
Covering that first big story is always hard, but they’ve done very well so far. I’m proud for them. Shame they had to have a story like this, but it shows their promise, demonstrates their hard work and will, hopefully, give them confidence to go with the sudden attention they are receiving.
(Update: WHNT-19, the Huntsville, Ala. CBS affiliate did a story on The Plainsman’s newsgathering. See it here.
There was another press conference today, though there was not much new to say. The suspect is still at large. Desmonte Leonard, authorities believe, was at the house they targeted last night. The thought is that he was able to move on before the Montgomery police, Auburn police, FBI, state troopers, U.S. Marshals and four other agencies arrived on the scene.
The only other news was that the reward for information leading to his arrest now sits at $30,000. And law enforcement is openly telling the public they’re tired of being misled. They’re offering Class C felonies to anyone who gets in the way.
I dislike that that this has become a football story. It is hard not to, though. Two former players were killed. One, Ladarious Phillips, was transferring to Jacksonville State (The heartbreaking version of his story is that his new coach, Jack Crowe, had expected him at JSU much early this summer. He was, apparently, having a tough time making that change, though, and so the wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time motif has even greater significance. Phillips everybody loved. He was 290 pounds and could do a backflip flat-footed with a big smile. The stories people tell of him in his hometown of nearby Roanoke, Ala., about being a father figure to young children, even when he apparently didn’t have one around himself, are sad and uplifting and heartbreaking. The other, Ed Christian, retired because of a back injury. He was still a student, though, a Georgia boy who, by all accounts I’ve read, also had a fine reputation.
Another current player, Eric Mack, was injured, but is expected to make a complete recovery. Whether he’ll play football again, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said, is right now immaterial.
But there were others, too, not affiliated with the football program. DeMario Pitts was a local boy, and he is dead at 20, leaving behind a son and daughter. Xavier D. Moss was killed at 19. John Robertson is in critical condition at a Birmingham hospital. The 20-year-old was shot in the head.
This is clearly beyond the scope of a football program, or an athletic department or even a university.
But, still, Chizik stood before the media today. Still shaken, exhausted and determined, he stood before this sign and said he wasn’t thinking about football at all. He was thinking about his players, and those families:
I noticed that sign in the spring, when I had the pleasure of hearing a presentation of a much happier sort in that same meeting room. But that sign means something even more profound this week than when it is normally read by football players thinking of Xs and Os.
And so this is a football story, though it shouldn’t be. But maybe it had to be, because that’s one of the things we do best. So let’s make this a football story, and Chizik the reluctant healer.
While no coach wants this kind of added work in their job, I’m sure most would do quiet well in these terrible circumstances. But Gene Chizik will be great. I think he’s a pretty good coach, but I’ve long thought he was a better man.
Oh, and the other big news: The Advance layoff meetings start today. In Huntsville, Birmingham and Mobile newspaper staffers are going into one-on-one meetings and being told whether they’ll have a future with the new company. Scary times for all those people.
I have friends in those newsrooms and have read the bylines or seen the efforts of others’ anonymous work for years, decades. No one wants to be a situation like this personally, but the future is here, says the company, and they’re changing for their future. Tough for everyone. Some 400 people are said to lose their jobs.
Later: Desmonte Leonard is in custody. He turned himself in to the U.S. Marshals in Montgomery this evening. Apparently he’d been negotiating with them for a good part of the day. Happily he’s been arrested without anyone else being hurt. And now the legal process can begin.
I mentioned this on Twitter, and I don’t want to overstate the point or anything, but we were at Mellow Mushroom when the news of his arrest was announced. You could fellow the atmosphere in the room change just a bit. Now, maybe, all of those families can begin to copy a tiny bit with their grief.