Reflecting on Jan. 24, 2023

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On Tuesday, Jan. 24, I said, “Please, God, let no innocent person die today.”

As many Islanders know by now, the suspect in this week’s barricade situation shot at Avalon Sheriff’s Station deputies and was arrested after a long standoff. Rumors flew that day and I hear the rumors are still flying. For the record: No one was taken hostage. No one was killed.

This week, when we first heard something was happening on Catalina Island, I feared I’d be helping to cover a mass murder in 2023.

I helped cover a mass murder once. That was in 2011 in Seal Beach, California.

I never want to help cover a mass murder again. The possibility exists.

Some people on Catalina believed—incorrectly, thank God—that there was an “active shooter” on the Island this week.

That was the first version of Jan. 24 that we heard in our mainland office.

Thank God that version was incorrect.

I phoned everyone I could think of in hopes of getting information. I checked the city website. I checked the Avalon Sheriff’s Station Twitter account. Co-workers told me what they heard. I remember thinking about Sgt. Grayson Kline at some point. I edit his Sheriff’s Log every week. I told myself he’d get back to me when it was over. I thought that perhaps he would provide the details in the Sheriff’s Log. You’ll find his account on page 2.

I don’t know Sgt. Kline well, but we’ve spoken a few times and so of course I thought of him and hoped he’d be safe.

I expected—correctly—that I wouldn’t have an accurate picture of what was happening until it was all over.

I didn’t worry about getting it all. I worried about making a mistake. I’m still worried as I write this.

Crisis and confusion come together. It is best to doubt the accuracy of any information you get from anyone, even honest and bright people on the ground. I started in journalism school in 1985. Since that time, I’ve occasionally had law enforcement officers give me inaccurate information. (They were honest mistakes.)

My friend and co-worker, Islander Office Manager Kristy Throndson was somewhere in the vicinity, trying to get a good photograph. I texted her advice: Stay safe; don’t get arrested. I’m sure she thought that advice was obvious.

I stand by the text. Whenever a journalist covers a crisis—fire, flood, riot, barricade, demonstration, or active shooter—there is always the risk of injury or arrest. I’ve covered two demonstrations in my little career. Before each one, I scouted the area before the event—to plan possible escape routes and to spot potential hiding places—just in case something went wrong. Nothing did. I don’t regret preparing for the worst. I’m delighted the preparation proved unnecessary.

I once took photographs while police officers held a suspect at gunpoint. I kept a discrete distance. I didn’t want the officers to feel threatened. I see zoom as a safety feature in a camera app.

In 2011, a colleague covered the horror of a mass murder while I updated the website every few minutes. I was spared the trauma that so many journalists experience in their careers—covering riots, murders, fires, earthquakes, and wars.

In 2011, on the first Sunday after the crime occurred, I visited the shrine to the lives lost at Salon Meritage. People stood in silence as they looked at the flowers, cards, and candles—expressions of love from a caring community to heartbroken families. TV news crews were across the street. They were also silent.

I did not want that awful silence to touch Avalon.

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, I said, “Please, God, let no innocent person die today.”

No one died. No one is mourning.

Thank You, God.

Charles M. Kelly is associate editor of the Catalina Islander.