"How do you get a UVA grad off your porch? Pay him for the pizza!" That's how Adam Ward's funeral service began, with a joke, which, naturally was aimed at Virginia Tech's rivals, and a room erupting in laughter -- the kind of laughter Adam himself used to inspire. It's a week later and I'm no closer to understanding how something so horrific could happen to someone so infectiously joyful.
While the world's eyes were on Roanoke last week, this week most national and international media have made their exodus from this small community I now call home, and though their focus is on the next horrible breaking news story, it's as if time was frozen here. 8/26/15.
Disclaimer: I did not know Adam my whole life, he was not my best friend, and he was not my relative. He did however, in the short time I got to know him, as the man engaged to my friend, make a lasting impression. Here was someone who, a month ago, didn't know me, owed me nothing, who in the first week of meeting me, agreed to put together my furniture in exchange for nothing, and, who, upon noticing how many empty boxes I had in my brand new apartment, offered to take them away in his pick-up truck for me, no questions asked.
I hate funerals for a myriad of reasons: depressing music, horribly uncomfortable benches in seemingly all houses of worship, but mostly because you hear the same clichés about people, over and over. Today however, they were all true. In my 25 years, I've met maybe a few people who would literally give you the shirt off their back -- Adam was one of them. The fact that I was a new friend should give you some idea of just how selfless he was. If he was willing to do this for me, someone he barely knew, someone he could have easily blown off with any excuse, you can imagine what he was like to his loved ones, and to my friend and his fiancé, Melissa.
As a reporter, you get used to jumping into new stories every day, following what's going on right now -- as the old adage goes, if it bleeds it leads, right? I've always tried to approach sensitive stories with care, making sure to give my condolences to the families before trying to put feelings aside to complete my job as a reporter. While I have deeply cared about the stories I've done, I've never realized the impact tragedies like this one have even after the cameras stop rolling. ABC, CNN, CBS, etc. have all moved on to the next story, and they should, the world hasn't stopped, but experiencing the impact of a story like this from the other side has changed me.
I don't want people to stop caring about this, because it's important, because it's symptomatic of a larger problem, but more so, because I'm biased and because I knew him and because my friend loved him, and because it is just not fair.
I feel the helplessness that the people I interview must feel.
I felt helpless driving to Smith Mountain Lake that morning before we knew what was going on. I felt helpless when the DJ on the radio announced "there were two fatalities, Adam and Alison," helpless as I began to put together the pieces -- two fatalities, WDBJ, Adam and Alison, Melissa's Adam, Adam Ward. I felt helpless, like someone punched me in the stomach, helpless as I continued to drive while dry heaving and calling my news director, forcing out incoherent sentences over hysterical sobs, trying to tell him what happened. I felt helpless as police chased "the shooter," helpless as I watched the despicable video the shooter recorded, helpless when I knew it was already too late and Adam couldn't hear me as I screamed at the video, "turn around Adam, turn around!"
And I feel helpless now, because I know that the outside world is going to move on from this, and that in all likelihood, nothing will change. I feel helpless, because in a matter of hours, this community was turned upside down, along with my friend's life.
The healing process isn't as "sexy" to news people as the initial tragedy is, and likely won't be revisited until another similar shooting, or until next year on August 26th, but I just hope, because that's pretty much all I can do, that all of this will not have been in vain.
While the town of Roanoke will not soon forget, I just, selfishly, hope that the aftermath of what has happened here doesn't just get heaped into a gigantic pile of "trending topics on Facebook," and I hope that people's attention spans are long enough to keep this in their minds and in their memories, because Adam lived and loved better in his brief 27 years than most people do in a lifetime.
RIP Adam, you will be sorely missed, as evidenced by the thousands of people who waited in a three and a half hour line just to console your family.
P.S. I loved the Rihanna and Lady Gaga music playing at your wake yesterday, great touch, and made me think of you and Melissa dancing up a storm with me at Corner Stone just a few weeks ago.