I work as a reporter and social media editor at a small-town broadcast news station in a safe little community. I came into the office yesterday morning, hopped on to Tweetdeck and began to newscrawl, just like I do every day.
Then, a tweet stopped me in my tracks.
A local newscrew in Virginia watched in horror as their morning anchor and photographer were gunned down on live television. They were doing what we in broadcast refer to as a "fluff piece" -- a human interest story that isn't hard news, but that people like nonetheless. People get sick and tired of seeing nothing but violence and crime day after day.
But this fluff piece turned into hard news. More than hard news, actually. I watched the tweets pour in -- the reporter and photographer had been gunned down live on air, taping this story.
Back at the studio, their colleagues and friends sat stunned, trying to figure out what had happened. Adam's fiancé, Melissa, was in the control room at the studio -- and watched the entire thing unfold.
The major media outlets picked up the news quickly, probably because there's someone scouring social media and RSS feeds for a living like I do. In the station, the executive producer and I turned on our TV.
I began to shake.
The tweets kept coming. Then the Facebook posts. Then the shocked and horrified faces of the WDBJ anchors trying to explain to their viewers, and probably themselves, what just happened.
I felt my throat tighten, my stomach drop. I was more than emotional. I was more than horrified and saddened by a senseless act of violence.
I was afraid. I admit it.
I was afraid. Because if Alison Parker, who is my age, and doing the same work I'm doing -- telling local stories of local people in what she thought was a small, safe little town, trying to make a name for herself in a field that we share a passion for -- could be gunned down in broad daylight, then why should I feel safe?
I always thought, well, as long as I'm not reporting in a war-torn country, as long as I'm not Christiane Amanpour, as long as I stay out of metropolitan areas, I'm safe aren't I?
Is that what Alison and Adam believed?
Did they ride together to that site to do their shoot, waking up early, grabbing coffee and maybe bagels, listening to talk-radio and laughing about office politics because that's what we all do when no one is listening? Did they goof around before rolling the tape, did she practice her outro -- did they look around, survey the scene, figure out the best way to set up the shot so that the morning sun wouldn't be in her eyes?
When someone pointed a gun at them, when someone shot them dead, were Alison and Adam as shocked as we were, watching it play out? Were they as terrified and betrayed as I feel, watching this happen? Had they, like me, been watching the newsfeeds for weeks, no months, no years, as constant headlines of gun violence saturated our news reports?
One anchor on CBS looked at the camera after reporting this breaking news and said, maybe a bit off record, that she wasn't even surprised.
I didn't know Alison or Adam, but I know my friends and colleagues at my station. Many of us are just starting out. We're in our 20s. We do these fluff pieces. We are small-town reporters clomping around farms and festivals, we are racing to the scene of car accidents and fires, we are waking up in the morning never certain of what our day will bring.
But I can tell you this:
I have never woken up wondering if I would get killed in the field, with my blazer and press badge and passion, no armor, no bullet-proof vest.
Last night, I went to bed with a heavy heart. I knew I would wake up this morning, I would grab my camera and my phone. I would string my press badge around my neck, hovering over my heart.
I wonder if I will ever feel safe again.
To my fellow journos: be safe today -- and every day.
To everyone who has said to me today, "That reporter was only 24, working in a small town, it could have been you," let me say this:
It still could be.
I remember thinking, when Sandy Hook happened, that's it, finally, something horrific enough that we will change our minds about how easy we make it for anyone, anywhere, to own a gun in this country.
But nothing changed.
As someone who looks at news all day, every day, I thought I was immune to these stories. I, like Alison Parker was yesterday morning when she was shot dead, spend a lot of time on the "fluffy" human interest pieces.
We all need to be reminded that there is light and hope in the world. That there are good people who do good work and make the lives of those around them better.
Even if it's only for a short time that they burn so bright.
A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.