Then she was brought out--the one who would forever haunt my nightmares. She was tiny. From her size, I guessed her age at three years, but it was hard to tell. Her head was bald, the hair having been completely burned away and really the only way I could tell she was a girl was from the still-smoldering night gown which had melted and stuck to most of her body. She looked peaceful from a distance. There were no screams, no crying, no movement in her little limbs. When they laid her on the gurney her chest neither rose nor fell. And nobody came to comfort her or make sure she was okay. But then, I knew that it made no difference to her now. She would never be okay. She was dead.
I fought for words to say about this little angel. Tears filled my eyes and I was on the verge of sobs, but I had to hold it together. Her story had to be told, and I could not tell it if I let my emotions take control. She deserved my best, and I was determined to give it to her.
"They have just brought out the body of a small ... child ...a girl, I think." I had to pause for a moment. Then, from nowhere, words gushed from my mouth. "Oh, God, what have you done?" I began to weep.
Not now. Get it together. I was shocked by what I had just said over live television. There was no way to un-blow that horn, but I had to continue.
I ducked out of the camera's view and wiped my eyes as I resumed commenting on the story. Her story. When I came to a suitable break, the station cut to a commercial and Jack Brady put his hand on my shoulder.
"Good job, Lance." Jack was a senior reporter and it felt good to hear those words which I knew were sincere. "I'll take it from here, but I want you to know that you have done Pulitzer work tonight."
I handed the microphone over to him and stepped back. "Thank you." I wanted to stay on the story, but I knew it had become a major event and the station was going to want their top reporter on camera. I headed for the van that had brought him and sat inside to vent my sorrow.
I allowed myself to weep in this private place. Now was the best time to get it out. As the tears flowed, I prayed for the victims and their families, especially for the poor little girl, and I prayed for myself. I asked God to help me forgive whoever had done this. I asked for understanding. I needed to know why He would allow such a thing to happen to innocent little children who had barely begun to live. And finally, I asked for the strength to continue in this heart-breaking profession to which He had called me.
I put the van in gear and began the drive back to the station. As I wandered through traffic, I wondered if there would be any answers to my questions. And would there be any peace in my soul ever again.
By the time I walked into the news room, my tear-reservoir was empty and had regained my composure. I let my body ease into the chair behind my desk and started looking for something to do...anything to occupy my mind for a while. My stress gauge was nearing the red line.
Stan, my producer, entered the room.
"Lance, can I see you in my office, please?" My heart fell to my toes. Getting called to the carpet was never a good sign. I was going to get fired for my emotional outburst on-air.
So be it. I sighed as I stood and walked the long mile into his office. He stood behind his desk, his extended arm offering me a seat.
As I sat, I remembered the wisdom of my grand-mother, who had raised me. The best thing to do is to admit your failure and take your punishment.
"Look, Stan, I know I let my emotions show. I'm sorry. It won't happen again, I promise," I said.
He looked puzzled for a moment.
"I think you did an outstanding job out there. Any of us would have been emotional on a story like that." He circled his desk and sat on the edge of it in front of me. His eyes were filled with concern.
"I have a phone call holding for you. I thought it would be best if you took it in here."
He handed the phone to me and patted my shoulder before leaving the room.
I picked up the phone and recognized the voice of Father Jim Donaldson, the parish priest at my home church in Frankton, Indiana.
"I think you should come home, Lance. There has been an accident and your grand-mother is in the hospital."
[To Be Continued . . .]