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AP Essay: Violence and traveled reporter in hometown

On this Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 photo, Associated Press senior correspondent Dan Sewell poses for a photo outside the scene of a shooting that occurred last week at Fountain Square, in Cincinnati. “More than four decades, The Associated Press, I have many times thrown the clothes in a bag, withdrawn, a wad of cash, and stuffed my laptop with notebooks and pens, before rushing with the car or by plane to a terrible event in someone else’s home town, the state or the country,” said Sewell. “This time, it was in my city.” (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

CINCINNATI – more Than four decades, The Associated Press, I have many times thrown the clothes in a bag, withdrawn, a wad of cash, and I put my laptop case with notebooks and pens, before rushing with the car or by plane to a terrible event in someone else’s city, state, or country.

Bombings, shootings, floods, forest fires, tornadoes, coups, even an AMERICAN military invasion.

There are certain images etched in my memory:

— Heartbreaking security footage of children in the daycare at the federal building would be in ruins after the bombing in Oklahoma City. People wail and a man’s body wracked with uncontrollable sobs as she returned home after the fatal floods in Falmouth, Kentucky. Take a rowing boat through the Hurricane Katrina-New Orleans flood and seeing a body float.

— Mixing between stressed family members wait with volunteers from the Red Cross for news of loved ones who got trapped in a high-rise hotel fire in San Juan, Puerto Rico. A grieving mother’s eyes moisten and her grandson to a questioning look as she spoke about his parents in St. George’s, Grenada, where they were executed in a coup d’état, which led to the US-led invasion.

— Baffled family members and scared the students to describe the fatal shootings in their neighborhoods or schools in multiple cities, in multiple states.

This time, it was in my city.

The Tweets began on the morning of Sept. 6 with reports of an active shooter just a few blocks from my office.

Our videographer, Angie Cheek, and ran to the city square in front of the office, our photographer, John Minchillo, in the neighbourhood of his house in the town.

I confirmed that Cincinnati police responding to an active shooter, turned on the local TV news, and began to write, assisted by AP reporters and editors in Ohio and throughout the country also collect information about the latest news.

Soon we learned the details of the latest mass shooting. A gunman opened fire just after 9 a.m., He walked into the lobby of the Fifth Third Bank building, on the Fountain square, the iconic center of Cincinnati. That is where I walk a lot in the afternoon to get a break, stretch my legs, perhaps for a small snack, and most importantly, just see what is going on. It can be a concert, the dancers, the sports on the big screen, food trucks or T-shirt sellers.

In less than five minutes, the shooter was dead in a hail of bullets and shells fired by four police officers. Omar Enrique Santa Perez had three civilians killed and wounded two more, and then it turned out that he had 250 rounds of ammunition, including the extra-destructive hollow-point bullets, all anyone could say is that it could be much, much worse.

What if he had shown up to shoot when the square full of people watching Bengal football, or dance during “Salsa on the Square” night? Or when I was using the ATM next to the bank entrance?

Now my haunting memory of the images of the gunman, striding purposely through the lobby, his right arm held the right to aim and fire his 9 mm pistol over and over and over, not show any emotion as he pumped rounds into helpless strangers.

The police say they are investigating the motives of the shooter. Florida court records show family members had fought to have him committed to a psychiatric institution.

“This is Cincinnati, Ohio,” Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, the county coroner, said Tuesday. “I would have never thought that would happen here.”

It hit her residences. They had met at her Cincinnati Hindu temple, one of the three victims, a 25-year-old man from her native country, Tenali, India, whose body was returned.

I walked back to the square with the Fountain on Monday, four days after the shooting, as the Fifth Third employees back to work. Some took a time-out to give blood within two vehicles of the Hoxworth Blood Center of the University of Cincinnati. The two shot survivors, a Fifth Third vice-president shot at least 12 times, have since been released from the UC Medical Center.

Yellow crime tape remained at the building entrance that morning. It is still not understood why the shooter chose for that purpose.

I’ve been in many times. I used to cover Cincinnati-based regional banker Fifth Third Bancorp. Media lawyer and friend Jack Greiner formerly had his office.

I have all the food shops, including the potbelly Sandwich restaurant where the gunman had gone immediately before the recording.

The recordings have been made for a long day at work, but afterwards I was able to drive home, have dinner on my wife Vickii, the chicken tortilla soup instead of ordering a late-night room service burger, and then sleep in my own bed, not in a hotel, or in a car, on a storm shelter floor, or in the back of a truck. The next morning, I picked out the clothes hang in a cabinet, not crammed into a duffle bag, and drove back to the city center.

I listened on the way to a satellite radio country music channel and a Connie Smith song came on that I had never heard anywhere before, except on Reds baseball games, where it is a favorite of the owner of the team:

“Another hour I’m home. … Shinin’ like a jewel in the valley. Cincinnati, O-hi-o. Cincinnati, O-hi-o”.

This time, it sounded like something more than just a nostalgic old country tune.

___

Follow Dan Sewell, AP’s Cincinnati correspondent, http://www.twitter.com/dansewell

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