by Angela Morris (Texas Lawyer, November 2018)
“I was processing the totality of it. I saw right then and there we were going to have family law issues, probate issues,” Wilson County Attorney Tom Caldwell recalled. “When I came home that night, I was so shook up by it, I told my wife I would handle them all. She said, ‘No, you are not.’”
Next, he called for help from his friend, Tom Keyser, a past president of the San Antonio Bar Association, who put Caldwell in touch with SABA’s Community Justice Program, which assists low-income people with civil legal matters.
That connection set a plan in motion that eventually attracted 100 lawyers from the San Antonio community who pledged to volunteer to help victims, survivors and their families with legal issues that arose from the tragic shooting. SABA’s Sutherland Springs initiative has already called upon half of those 100 volunteer attorneys, helping with matters large and small—from answering a client’s question over the phone, to taking on full representation. All of the lawyers gave their services free of charge, and volunteer attorneys are still standing by today to help survivors and victims’ families with legal issues that spring up later.
The reporter who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for feature writing initially thought she was in Charleston, South Carolina, to chronicle the lives of nine church-goers who died in 2015 when a stranger with a Glock murdered them while they were praying.
The names, mug shots and one paragraph each about the lives of those nine victims did make it into Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s story, “A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof,” published in GQ in September 2017.
But the rest of her over 12,000-word story told the tale of their killer instead. Ghansah spared nothing in tracking down intimate details of the shooter’s life, coming from his childhood friends, elementary school principal, church minister, co-workers, teenage pals and more. The reporter went back to his birth, telling of the isolation of his school years as a low-income white boy, can’t-get-out-of-bed depression, rancid racism, incessant preparations for killing African-American parishioners and his death sentence for a federal hate crime conviction.
It’s an incredible work of journalism, but also an example of the type of mass shooting coverage that’s maddening to advocates who, for years, have tried to little avail to persuade the media to stop publishing the names and images of mass shooters.
This article first published in Quill Magazine in June. It’s available for reprints. Contact me for details.
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