We’ve seen it all, haven’t we Pittsburgh? We have been on the world stage for so many things: G-20, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup. We have been talked about in so many different mediums for so many different things. We have been held up as an ideal for what a city looking to escape the economic doldrums should aspire to.
If there was ever a year a medium-sized city should feel good about itself, it would by 2009 in Pittsburgh. Yet, it was through tragedy, that this city showed more about itself that any triumph or success. The events of the morning of April 4th and the days that followed showed us at our best as our community came together to experience a moment that may have been our worst.
That morning, I was heading down I-79 towards my alma mater, Ohio University. Set to speak to a collection of journalism students, I got a call from our newsroom. There was a shooting in Stanton Heights … and it involved a police officer. I turned around and headed back towards the city, not knowing what to expect. My best guess is that one officer was shot, the suspect was apprehended and the scene was secured.
When my car pulled up to the police line, it was obvious this was different. Watching the 30 or more officers in riot gear run by me was the first indication. The sound of gunfire was the other. It sounded like firecrackers popping and it went on for a good ten minutes. From the point in which we held back police, we couldn’t see the shoot-out that was underway but we could hear it.
What followed was a morning of tragedy: the death of three Pittsburgh police officers in a quiet residential neighborhood. I remember being live all that morning and later that night at Pittsburgh police headquarters. I remember trying to talk to a woman who was at the scene and was inconsolable. She told me to get away when I tried to talk to her on camera. She was the Richard Poplawski’s mother.
I remember how cold it was … and I remember how things moved so quickly … even though it was almost four hours from the shootings to the clearing of the scene. I remember being at police headquarters for the press conference later than day and seeing the emotion and the tears in the eyes of their fellow officers.
But nothing stays with me more than what happened later that night. I went out to dinner because I hadn’t eaten all day and was craving a hamburger. My journey for food took me to Tessaro’s in Bloomfield. Of course, it never dawned on me until I got there that this was the neighborhood in which officer Paul Sciullo grew up. I was met by a constant wave of folks from that neighborhood. Some were complementary of our coverage while others simply wanted to tell me stories about. I learned about his neighborhood ties, his passion for golf and his decision to give up a financially rewarding career to become a cop.
As the days went on towards the funerals, it was amazing to see how the city and the community came together. Many to mourn and grieve while others wanted to raise money to help the families. It’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t surprise us about the community in which we live. Still, when it happens its nothing short of amazing.
Tonight, as I am writing this, it will be eight months since that tragic morning. The images are still fresh. I can still feel the chill of that cold morning. I can still feel the uneasiness among those bystanders as the firefight went on down the street. These are images that eight months later stick with me … and likely for years to come.
Maybe with the community at large, but definitely with me.