These are real people

Maybe I’m the only one who needed to be reminded of this.

Tragedies happen to real people.

Like all journalists, I’ve covered tragedies.  And I’ve always felt bad for the people involved. But, it’s the kind of feeling bad where you think, “Wow! it’s terrible that something bad happened to this person I’ve never met.  I wish that didn’t happen. I hope for the best for them.”

The deadlines desensitize us.  The soundbites make us callous.  It can be easy to forget the person in that soundbite isn’t a character. It’s a real person… and their life was just ruined.

Reality hit this morning.

Vegas is a “know a guy” kind of place.   Locals don’t go through normal channels for things like tickets, dinner reservations… anything.  They ask a friend if they know a guy who can hook them up.  A friend got me a deal on my wife’s engagement ring because he knew a guy.

If there is such thing as a small town with a million people, it’s Las Vegas.

I met my wife there.  Her family lives there.  Some of our best friends are still there.   When my alarm went off at 1:45 this morning, and I saw the news, I said to my wife, “I guarantee we know someone who was there.”

I’d bet almost everyone in Vegas knows someone who was there. 








That’s a text from an old friend in California.

So far, we’ve been “lucky.”  Only friends of friends were there.  But, right now, only one victim has been identified.  That means there are at least 57 names that will come out in the next few days.  I have a pit in my stomach, praying I don’t know a guy.

I say this not to make the story about me.  Quite the opposite.   If this is what if feels like when your only connection to a tragedy (we hope) is “friends of friends,” imagine what life is like for this man.

My God.

What do you say to him? What could you ever say to him? His life will never be the same.

Even if he has other children, grandchildren… whatever, it’s hard to imagine how he could ever be truly happy again.  When the family gets together for holidays, it will only be a reminder of who is missing.

Some reporter is going to have to ask him for an interview.  We’ve all done it.  It sucks.  It is without a doubt the worst part of the job.   After nearly 20 years, I still haven’t figured out a good way to do it.

How do you start the conversation? How do you offer condolences that don’t sound hollow when you know your about to ask for an interview?   I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know… If you are more concerned with comforting the person than getting an interview, you will never go wrong.