Janet Reeves, Rocky Mountain News Director of Photography, talks
about this dramatic photo: "It's important to show what really happened."
Rodolfo Gonzalez, photographer: It started out as a pretty typical day. An early morning phone call from Assignment Photo Editor, Steve Dykes gave me a “heads up” about an assignment in my neck of the woods. “Mickey & Minnie Mouse are in town opening up their new Disney Kids Club” which is an oversized kids indoor adventure/playground.
“Well it could be worse,” I thought to myself. “....it could be worse?” That is something I will never care to whisper again. It got worse! It got worse really fast!
|As I packed up my lights and said good-bye
to Mickey, Minnie and the store’s GM. The pager on my belt started to shake.
“WHAAAAT!!!!” I moaned.
“SHOOTING AT COLUMBINE HIGH SCHOOL, Plz Call ASAP!”-message on my pager.
With a call into the photo desk I could tell this was not something light hearted, like maybe a senior prank or something. Steve Dykes, Photo Editor, was brief but urgent, “Need you to get on a helicopter right now.” As it was I was only minutes away from the local commuter airport and was on a helicopter and hovering over Columbine High School with 20 minutes.
I think the emergency calls came out at 11:21a.m. and I was joining the circling flight pattern above the high school along with 6 or 7 other aircraft a few minutes prior to noon.
As we joined other aircraft we kept pretty high as we circled the school in fear of drawing weapons fire or aggravating the scenario below. Much was unknown at the time.
As I leaned out of the side bay door of the helicopter hand holding a 400mm and wishing I had something longer the helicopter crept over the side of the school showing a severely damaged cafeteria with blown out windows and glass everywhere. It took me a few seconds with the wind and camera shake from the helicopter before I spotted a group of kids huddled and hiding behind a car with a police officer’s weapon drawn and pointing towards the school’s entrance. As I tried to focus on the kids behind the car I saw a shape lying on the sidewalk leading in the corner of the camera’s frame. “Hey, there is a kid laying on the sidewalk down there” I yelled to the pilot. At that moment I had know idea who he was or his condition. You can say a lot for adrenaline! To bad it goes away. As the pilot and I circled the school time and time again I started to tell myself, “ahh there’s no way that’s a kid! maybe it’s a bunch of book bags, you know, backpacks that students dropped as they ran for cover or something” I guess, deep down, I was really hoping, no, praying it was anything else but a victim.
Later I found out the victim had a name, a family, a life. Dan Rohrbough, is his name. He was fifteen, a freshman, a young man full of life, full of promise. Dan’s family found his picture in the next day’s edition. It confirmed their son’s fate after what I can only imagine was an eternal night of not knowing.
The images made that day and in the days that followed are at the very least, haunting. Days of crying, hugging, and of enormous grief takes it’s toll on all. It has taken it’s toll on me.
Rodolfo Gonzalez can be reached at: Gonzopix@aol.com
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The Day After | Memorials | Closure
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