Friday, January 6, 2017
I was at home waiting for my 1A shift to start at 3:30 p.m. when I got a text from my editor, David, asking me to come in early to cover breaking news. Having had the job for just over six months, I had never experienced any hard breaking news, so I asked him, “What time?” He responded, “ASAP please. We are reporting a mass shooting at FLL airport.”
By definition, a mass shooting is of three or more people. I was hoping that it was the minimum. Maybe something gang related. Nothing more. I texted my family, told them what was going on and that I was safe.
In a mere 20 minutes, the fastest I have ever gotten ready, I was on the road, heading to the newsroom.
Within the first two minutes of being in the office, I already had a graphic assignment, to create a graphic of the terminal where the shooting was reported to have taken place, due as soon as humanly possible. Ten minutes of research and 10 minutes of designing later, I had a graphic of the terminal. It wasn’t beautiful or even to scale, but it was something to put on the website to help keep others informed.
Over the next couple of hours, I watched Twitter and the wires to see if anything new came up about the shooting, also while cleaning up the graphic I made before. There were some reports of a second shooting at separate terminal, so I whipped up graphic of it, just in case we needed to use it. Luckily, those reports were unfounded.
The day went by so quickly. I barely remember doing 1A.
By the end of the day we knew that five people had died from the incident, at least six were injured directly from the shooting and thirty or so sustained injuries from the mad-dash to hide and protect themselves.
As journalists, we try to get breaking news information out to the public as soon as we can, but it also takes investigating, digging and just plain time to get to the bottom of things. So I set my questions aside, packed up my things and went home after a long day in the newsroom.
Monday, January 9: Something Different
On Monday, I received a graphic assignment from my editor, relating to the recent shooting, but it wasn’t just a simple graphic, it was something different.
Myself, the interactive team and a select group of journalists were assigned create a “tick-tock” graphic of the shooting for Sunday’s paper. That seemed like a long way off, but in reality, it wasn’t. The next couple of days were consumed by getting to know the baggage claim of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) Terminal 2, researching the shooting and trying to figure out what happened.
My editor actually wanted me to go out into the field and conduct research for the graphic, something different for a designer who sits and hides behind her Mac eight hours a day. I was tasked with visiting the airport to sketch and study the workings of the baggage claim in Terminal 2, the site of the shooting.
Tuesday, January 10: Journalism!
On Tuesday, I met with another reporter at the scene, complete with a sketchbook, large prints of the graphic I made the previous Friday, pens and paper. I felt kind of kind of creepy sitting and studying the works of an airport, but the whole point of this field trip was to ensure that the final graphic was as to scale as possible.
I sat and sketched over my graphic, correcting placements and adding features. I took photos and videos of the building to ensure that I when I got back to the newsroom, I had everything I needed.
A temporary black curtain hung from ceiling to floor, cutting off the central part of the terminal. Cleaning crews in white suits and masks came in and out of the crime scene, carrying bottles of chemicals and bags of carpet squares. As they entered and exited, myself and the reporter were able to get glimpses of the restricted area. But this time, it had been four days after the event and all evidence was gone, the floor was taken down to concrete. There was little information to get from peaking inside the area, but curiosity got the best of us.
While sketching, as I suspected, I had to flash my press pass to show that no, I am not a creeper studying the inner-workings of an airport, but am a graphics reporter trying to get the facts straight. I did happen to get yelled at by a security guard for taking photos, but by that time, I had already studied baggage claim for over two hours and felt that I had enough information, so I didn’t argue and just left.
When I returned to the newsroom, it was time to put pencil to paper (again) and create a rough, but more accurate, graphic of the terminal. After a couple of hours, I was pooped. My brain could not think anymore.
Right before my editor left for the night, he mentioned to me that I a general sketch of baggage claim would be helpful for the reporters who talk to witnesses, to help get their stories straight. After saying goodbye, I knew that I had to keep chugging along and get something to the reporters that night. After almost 11 hours of research, sketching and vectoring and I had created simple, black and white line drawing of the scene to send.
Wednesday, January 11: Photos. Videos. Audio. Interviews. Headaches.
Wednesday, the reporters were starting to get information from witnesses, FBI reports and public records.
One witness in particular, Mark Lea, sent us photos of the crime scene.
After the FBI arrived at the scene the day of the shooting, the witnesses were “corralled” into a corner of the baggage claim and, unfortunately, had to stay there for hours. A crime scene investigation unfolding right in front of them, some of them took the opportunity to take photos and to really see what unfolded in front of them in a mere 90 seconds.
These photos, some that were even used in the print package, were extremely helpful in narrowing down some of the positions of things.
Additionally, our reporters were able to get into contact with another witness, Chenet Nerette, who shot a 20-second video immediately after the attack. The video is extremely graphic, but you can clearly see three of the five victims, two in pools of blood, one crouched over, bleeding to death.
While shocking and hard to watch, I watched it 30+ times to narrow down the positions of the victims. Additionally, this video was shot from the opposite angle of Lea’s photos, so it offered a new angle of the the terminal. With the photos and video I was able to study the parts of the airport that I were curtained off on Tuesday.
Finally, by this time, TMZ had uploaded a leaked video of security camera footage from the Terminal, clearly showing the attacker, Esteban Santiago, firing his first shots. This was also helpful in narrowing down the timeframe of the shooting.
I scrolled through my own photos, Mark Lea’s photos and screenshots of Chenet Nerett’s and TMZ’s videos, trying to piece together the event. I joked that this is the closest I will ever get to CSI/NCIS/*insert crime scene TV show here.*
At the end of the day, I emailed a rough graphic to all of the reporters on the story, showing what we knew so far. Additionally, my editor suggested that I send them questions that I still needed answered and any gaps that I needed to be filled in. That way, they can directly answer me or ask these questions to the witnesses.
Thursday, January 12: Piecing together what we knew so far
By Thursday, with the help of more witnesses, we narrowed down the locations of all of the victims. And, through witness accounts, we were able to determine the majority of the Santiago’s moves.
As explained in the graphic, Santiago exited his flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul, and retrieved a single case from the baggage claim, containing a gun. According to the FBI, he went to the bathroom, loaded the gun and exited. Through the TMZ video and Mark Lea’s photos, we were able to determine that shooting began at the beginning of baggage claim 2, as passengers from an Atlanta flight were walking to baggage claim 3. Witnesses said that he traveled between the space between baggage claim 2 and 3, firing at random.
From there, the trail runs cold, witnesses could not remember or say what Santiago did next. From FBI reports, we know that Santiago exited the Terminal at some point during the shooting and then reentered, but when in the timeline is unknown. We do know that Santiago reloaded his gun, but also, when and where is unknown.
After Santiago ran out of ammunition, we concluded that he walked back to the west side of the airport, dropped the gun and laid “spread eagle” on the ground, waiting to be arrested. From Mark Lea’s photos, we were able to determine the location of the gun and the approximate location where Santiago laid down.
Finally, from another witness photo posted to Twitter, we were able to determine the location where Santiago was arrested by the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
I came back to my simple graphic, recreating what I had been told by reporters to ensure that I was visually translating their words properly and asking any questions that I needed clarified.
Lastly, at the end of the day, Broward County officials named the final victim, Mary Louise Amzibel.
Friday, January 13: No more answers
By Friday, we had narrowed down, to the best of our ability, the timeline of the shooting. While we still had some questions left to be answered, our witnesses refused to talk anymore. After all, it had been a week after the attack and, I can only guess, that the reality of what had unfolded in front of them had set in.
Even though there were some holes in our timeline, the interactive team and I proceeded. By the end of the day one of my coworkers on the interactive team had competed a 3D rendering of the terminal, a task that took almost two days to complete. Additionally, the majority of the copy for the timeline had been completed, so I could officially start working on the print graphic.
By 8 p.m., I had a basic design for the graphic complete in InDesign. I was liking how it was coming out, but it was packed. While informative, the copy was way, way too long and needed to be cut for print. I sent what I had to my editor, who talked to the writers to trim the text and helped clean up my design.
Saturday, January 14: It’s Typeset. It’s Done.
By this time in the week, I was well over my 40 hours. But journalism does not sleep!
It was my day to cover another designer’s 1A shift, but luckily while I was busy doing the whole graphics reporting thing, the rest of the design team was making sure that the Sunday 1A page was as in good of shape as it would ever be, so that I could finalize my graphic.
After a mild scare with the 3D rendering being at the wrong angle and having to redraw some things, the graphic was finally coming together.
I sent a PDF to my editor asking if he saw anything that needed to be fixed. After giving me the all-clear, in true Catie fashion, I nit-picked for about an hour, nailing the small details that probably a designer would only see.
An hour before deadline, I typeset the graphic. It was out of my hands.
Often times, horrible circumstances lead to great opportunities for good, quality journalism. While I am mindful of the tragic events that took place in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on January 6, I am grateful for the opportunities that were presented to me my my editor and the staff at the Sun Sentinel. Additionally, after 55 hours of work, I am proud of the final product and I consider it one of my best pieces yet.
To see the online version of “90 Seconds in Terminal 2,” please click here.