Off the Press

May 15, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Tragedy yields changed perspectives

Warren Kagarise Press reporter

Memories from the afternoon remain fresh months after the last gunshots echoed across the Clark Elementary School campus, even as the incident recedes deeper into the past.

Downtown Issaquah transformed into a crime scene Sept. 24, as a gunman menaced residents and later died in a police shootout.

The incident receded into memory for most people not long afterward. Still, the investigation continued and throughout the process, the events from Sept. 24 remained close to me.

A stack of documents from the King County Sheriff’s Office investigation sits on my desk. Photos from the incident still flicker across my computer screen. I speak to sources about the investigation at least once each week.

The inquest into the incident starts May 21 at the King County Courthouse. I plan to report from the official inquiry into the event, too.

The gunman, Ronald W. Ficker, remains for the most part unknown months after the fateful autumn afternoon. I attempted to offer a more complete portrait of him as the calendar inches closer to the inquest. (Readers can find the account on Page A1.)

In reporting on the incident, I endeavored to balance public safety concerns and compassion for the people impacted by the tragedy.

In the days after the shootout, a front-page account from a friend of Ficker offered context and attempted to answer the questions lingering in everybody’s minds.

I also spoke to people trapped beneath the Issaquah High School bleachers amid the frenzy.

The police officers involved in the incident received the highest honor in the state — a Washington Law Enforcement Medal of Honor — and a national nod from the National Association of Police Organizations.

The incident and the investigation also led me to evaluate my approach as a journalist.

I spoke to journalism students at the University of Washington last month. The incident, and the July 2010 gang shootout at Lake Sammamish State Park, factored into the discussion.

The tragedies offered important lessons in the most effective methods to inform readers, but more importantly, a chance to reach out to readers.

The Issaquah Press used Twitter and Facebook — and near-constant updates to www.issaquahpress.com — to inform readers as both events unfolded. The focus on social media defined the discussion, but I also explained to students how the Sept. 24 incident brought other considerations to the fore.

Though the events from that day carried a tragic consequence, the incident prompted me to consider different perspectives — as a journalist, as a reader, as a person involved in the incident.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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