5 Stories That Shaped My 2009: #4

Editors note: This is my look back at the 5 local stories that I believe had the greatest impact on our community in order of importance and impact. This is my opinion … and the narrative is told from this reporter’s view, offering a view of each story from a unique perspective.

It was a quiet August night in the newsroom. Kind of one of those summer nights where most residents in the region were outside enjoying the weather. There was nothing in the air to suggest a night of terror was soon to unfold … in all places … a health club.

However, slowly after 8pm, word started trickling into our newsroom from Collier Township that there had been a shooting at the L.A. Fitness Center on Washington Pike. As with such stories, confusion reigns in the early moments of such a scene. How many people were killed? Was the shooter still in the building? Was he alive?

We were fortunate as a news organization that night because we had people who lived in the area or nearby. We were able to learn the scope and size of this tragedy. For me, I nearly joined that gym when I lived in Bridgeville and it wasn’t far from many good friends that I had.

It was while Wendy and myself were on the set, breaking into programming to give as much information and details as we could, that I first discovered very important first-hand for the first time: the power and immediacy of social networking.

A night of terror unfolded before ouu eyes in Collier Township August 4th.

Many of you who normally read my blog know I have both a Facebook and Twitter page. Usually, the pages are used more for fun and games but on this night, they helped keep me in touch with people who lived in the area. People I knew. It was also the first time I had friends I knew so well so close to an unfolding story. So close that one of my friends called me later to tell me she literally had pulled out of her parking space at the gym as the shooter pulled in. She said to me later she left earlier that usual.

Well, you know what happened that night that put our community in the national headlines. Three women who went to the gym for their evening workouts were killed. Even looking at their pictures and hearing their stories, it is still hard to believe they are gone in such a senseless act.

And the man who killed them? We were given a rare glimpse into his mind through his own personal videos of his pursuit of a girlfriend. A pursuit that ended with lives being lost, families being torn apart and a community coming together to mourn. But we also saw great bravery and heroism. People pulling others out of the gym as the shooting began, the healthy helping the injured and those brave women who did survive their wounds.

 Today, the fitness center still stands and is still in business. Nothing outside the building to give anyone the idea or hint that something so horrifying had taken place. However, western Pennsylvania people have a way of not forgetting the past. There’s this adage that if ask a local person for directions, they won’t use street signs or even current markers. They will refer to what used to be there.

Such will be the case for years to come, I sense, at that facility in Collier Township.

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