CNN's Ed Lavandera was in Tulsa when he got word that there had been a shooting in Aurora, CO. He had just finished working on a story in southeastern Kansas, and had driven to Tulsa to catch a flight back to his home base of Dallas.
At 3:45, his boss called.
"I knew it was serious," he told The Huffington Post on Friday. "They don't usually call you at 3:45 unless there's a reason."
Lavandera immediately got into gear, hopping on a 6 AM flight to Denver. He was on the air by 10:15, with him, his crew and CNN's Atlanta headquarters feverishly gathering information about what exactly had happened when a 24-year-old named James Holmes allegedly began indiscriminately murdering people during a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises."
Friday's massacre in a Colorado movie theater has drawn hundreds of reporters and anchors to the Denver suburb of Aurora. Nearly all of the major networks have sent their top anchors there. Before they arrived, though, correspondents like Lavandera were there. He was the first journalist from CNN to report from the scene.
Lavandera spoke to The Huffington Post from Aurora. He said that he was helped in his reporting by his previous trips to Denver.
"I knew where Aurora was," he said. "I had a pretty good feel of the place."
Even so, he and his team had to decide where they were going to camp themselves; police were converging on Holmes' apartment and they'd also heard that witnesses were being taken to a nearby high school to be interviewed. Ultimately, Lavandera chose to stay at the movie theater where the killings had taken place.
He started talking to witnesses who had been in the theater. He said that his primary mission was to keep things as simple as possible and do no harm.
"It's easy to make bad mistakes," he said, adding that his motto was "Don't get ahead of yourself. There's plenty of time."
One witness who stayed with him was named Chris Ramos. He had been sitting in the middle of the theater, next to a man who Holmes had shot.
"I don't think I'll ever forget the way he described what it was like," he said. "I'm eternally grateful to him [for telling the story]."
Lavandera said he has bought a one-way ticket to Aurora, and isn't sure when he will move on to his next story.
"My mindset is, I'll get through today," he said. "We need to learn as much as possible the story of who James Holmes is ... there's just a horrific rest of the story that still remains."
Lavandera also said he was sensitive to the charge that is always leveled whenever the national media descends on a grief-stricken town -- that it is being gruesome and exploitative and elevating the killer to a perversely exalted status. (It's not by accident that a scathing 2009 takedown of the media's approach to tragedy by British comedian Charlie Brooker was frequently passed around on Twitter on Friday.)
He said that, when confronted with these accusations, he was always reminded of a stretch of time at the height of the Iraq War, when he kept having to interview the families of soldiers who had been killed.
"It's the worst of assignments," he said. "There might be a lot of people who handled these situations poorly. I take pride in the way that I handle myself."
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