On Sunday, April 27, 2008 I found myself on one of the most difficult assignments in my career.
I was at the station, putting the finishing touches on my story for the day when a call came across the radio for a shooting at a nearby park. Very near. In fact, we beat the ambulance to the crime scene.
As the paramedics were frantically working on the shooting victim, a group of very young girls approached me. I was in a suit, carrying a radio and my photographer was on the other side of the park getting his footage. I've learned the best way to get information is to walk away from the camera. People are more likely to open up to you and tell you what they know if there isn't a camera around.
Now, I don't know if these girls knew I was a reporter or a cop or what, but they came up to me and the oldest, who was around 11 years old, asked me if the suspects had been located. I said "no", and started asking my own questions. She told me the victim was her 18-year old sister. My heart sank.
Just as I finished saying "I'm sorry", the smallest girl in the bunch - who was no older than 5 or 6 - walked up to me with tears streaming down her face, looked up at me, and asked "will my sister ever come home again?"
I wanted to cry. I wanted to throw up. Honestly, I wanted to run away. I'm a reporter - not a counselor or a family member and certainly not a police officer who is accustomed to handling these kind of questions.
It took a few moments, but I was finally able to speak. I think I said something like "yeah, of course she's coming home. She's just hurt. It's like being sick. She has to go to the hospital to get better." She stopped crying, but I knew in my heart I said the wrong thing. I wanted to kick myself for telling her something I didn't know for sure.
Moments later Shonda Hamilton was rolled on a stretcher into the ambulance. Paramedics were still pumping on her chest and the look on their faces almost promised there was more bad news to come. As the doors to the EMSA truck locked, the group of sisters once again gathered nearby and this time they were all crying, including the little girl who I tried to help.
I cover a lot of crimes and I've seen my fair share of murders, but this is one that's going to stick out in my mind for a long, long time.
And to the little girl who lost her sister - I'm sorry I lied.