Charleston Strong

I was in Charleston over the weekend on a personal trip and found out about the “Bridge to Peace” unity walk. They expected 5,000-6,000 people to cross the iconic Arthur Ravenel Bridge at sunset to symbolize the city’s unity after the horrific massacre last week. I decided to go along and photograph my experience. Seeing so many people all come together at the same time with the same peaceful purpose was powerful and energizing. The local paper estimated 10,000-15,000 people attended.

_M4U9865-blog

_M4U9889-blog _M4U9828-blog

_M4U9970-blog

_M4U9926-blog

_M4U9938-blog

_M4U0094-blog

_M4U0071-blog
_M4U0208-blog_M4U0271-blog

_M4U0362-blog

_M4U0374-blog

_M4U0404-blog

_M4U0462-blog

 

Remembered

I feel like I’ve been going to a lot of vigils lately. Taking photos of people praying or crying always makes me uneasy. I find myself wondering if the pictures will actually help “raise awareness” or if I am just unnecessarily intruding on people’s grief. I have to believe that keeping people talking about domestic violence issues can only help, and I appreciate the families and friends of victims for letting the press spread the stories of their loved ones. Below: Laura Evans was allegedly shot and killed by her estranged husband, and was remembered by friends and family during a vigil at Appomattox High School.

Brown Thursday

I don’t support this new trend but I had to cover it anyway. Brown Thursday, as it has been called, is a clear violation of America’s favorite holiday in terms of food. Going out at 7 or 8 pm and waiting in line until midnight is just crazy enough to be fun. Having stores open at 5 and 6 pm ruins all that. They don’t even pass out stuffing or cranberry sauce while you are in line.

Take Cover

Seventh-grader Logan Elliott takes shelter under his desk during The Great ShakeOut earthquake drill at Rustburg Middle School. The worldwide drill was started in 2008 to educate people on what to do if an earthquake hits. “I hope we don’t ever need to use them” said Tim Hoden, Director of Operations for Campbell County Schools, “but we want to prepare students in case we have a crisis.”

Laid to Rest, at Last

Yesterday was the funeral and burial for a US soldier killed overseas. In Korea. In 1950. Since 1955, his remains were in Honolulu, unidentified except with a number. Earlier this year, after submitting DNA in hopes of finding a match, his sister received word that they had found him and would be sending him home to Lynchburg for a full military funeral. His mother, 98, was in attendance.

The story is here.

A Day in DC

I pulled a 22-hour shift to cover Obama’s second inauguration (my first) in Washington yesterday. A group of people from the Lynchburg area organized a bus to leave at 1:30 a.m. and come back in the afternoon. With a 4ish-hour trip each way I knew it would be a long day. I mistakenly thought I’d be able to grab a decent nap during the ride but sometimes it just doesn’t work out (and it doesn’t help when you are right under the speaker for the en-route movie). All in all it was an amazing day and one that I’ll never forget. Seeing the sun rise over the Jefferson Memorial and feeling the crowd roar as Obama approached the lectern – photos and words really aren’t adequate to capture those moments. But they are better than nothing so, as usual, here is a set of my favorite pics from the day. Including a very candid photo of Obama hanging out with some people in the park…

Angel Heart

On the afternoon of Halloween I was handed an assignment that at first I didn’t believe. And the more I learned about it, the more I realized how unbelievable it really was.

After photographing trick-or-treaters, I drove over to a hotel in Lynchburg and waited in the lobby with reporter Casey Gillis, her friend Jennifer and Jennifer’s friend Lindsay. Within a few minutes we would be meeting Derri Engstrom and her family, who had arrived from Minnesota that afternoon to complete an amazing journey that led to Lindsay.

Two years earlier, Lindsay gave birth to a little girl, Lillian, who seemed as healthy as any mother could hope. Not long after, however, Lil was diagnosed with a condition that required multiple surgeries on her lower intestine. At seven months old and on life support, doctors told Lindsay that there was nothing else they could do. There was, however, something else Lindsay could do: agree to donate the girl’s heart to another child in need. Lindsay and her boyfriend, Johnny, agreed to do it and had no idea where the heart went for over a year.

Five months earlier, in Minnesota, Derri Engstrom’s son Easten was born with a heart defect that left half of his heart almost useless. Enduring multiple surgeries as well, he was hospitalized and the Engstroms prepared for the worst. Then they got word that a heart was on its way and they prepped little Easten for his biggest surgery yet. The surgeon said it was the best fit he had ever seen. The Engstroms called it his “angel heart.” Derri said she always wondered where the heart had come from.

On the anniversary of the surgery, Derri sent a letter through the donor organization that eventually reached Lindsay, and they decided to talk on the phone. That led to emails and an eventual plan to meet in person. I didn’t learn of any of this until the Engstroms were already in Lynchburg, in their hotel room, getting ready to meet Lindsay in the lobby. I felt like I skipped right to the end of the story, reading the last page without knowing how it all came to be. Luckily, I got to spend a couple more days with them and discovered the depth of their connection and the improbability of the whole situation. They repeatedly described each other as “family” and the two moms treated each other like sisters. I couldn’t distinguish the tears of joy from the tears of grief that both mothers shed.

Here are the photos we published from that weekend, of brand new friends who had already been through more together than many people do in a lifetime. The News & Advance published Casey’s article on Thanksgiving, as Lindsay joined the Engstroms at their home in Minnesota so they could spend another holiday together.

More Storm Damage

Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly take another photo of a downed tree, my editor said we are going to have another photo page and we need fresh art of the current situation to fill it. So, for the third time this week, I went on an all-day multi-shot feature hunt. And I had a great day. I was hot, sweaty, tired and running low on creative juices, but I got to make some frames that I would never have normally tried, just to keep it interesting.