Hindsight. It's a double edged sword. You look back and can clearly see the forks in life's road that you have navigated. Sometimes you knew they were there and chose your direction, other times you stumbled through a fog not even realizing the road had split until later. Depending on where you are in life, those intersections and your chosen path can be viewed with relief or regret. This isn't a revelation. It's something we all do. We're all aware of it. But it's something I always think about when I go back to July 3rd, 2016.
I wasn't even meant to be working that day. I got a call early. It was a Sunday. Nobel Peace Prize winner, holocaust survivor and humanitarian icon Elie Wiesel had passed away the day before and, adhering to jewish religion, was being buried the next morning following a funeral in the Upper East Side. The service was commencing in under an hour, could I make it and at least cover the recessional?
Gear packed, out the door, to the subway. I swiftly arrived at the small synagogue and joined the press contingent gathered over the street. Proceedings were already underway. Given the short notice of the event, the press pool was small. Some late attendees scurried to the entrance past members of the NYPD, who were securing the site. Our world now. But I had made it, and felt that should the service run as expected, I had time up my sleeve to set up my captions, pre-visualize my shots, settle in, enjoy the calm. It was perfect weather.
Then, from Central Park, an explosion broke the morning stillness. A deep, booming explosion. Not a car backfire. Not Fireworks. My mind ran through possibilities, praying it wasn't the terrorism most New Yorkers dread will return someday. But silence returned. A long, time-slow-down silence. I watched the police guarding the building, waiting for their reaction. They stood still. I looked toward the origin of the sound for any kind of response. All appeared totally normal. Seconds and then minutes of nothing. My feet wanted to run toward the Earth shaking sound, my mind told me to stay on the job I was assigned to. I couldn't miss the recessional. Stay or go? My fork in the road.
An approaching scream of multiple ambulances was my cue. I ran to Central Park, leaping the perimeter fence and breaking through a large crowd all facing the same direction. Through a clearing laid a young man, surrounded by paramedics. A very young man. In shock, in pain. I was able to shoot through the trees as I saw him being treated where he lay, on s small dirt track off the main path. From a distance the injuries to his left leg looked bad. Bloody and severe. What had done this? I made sure I had a clean frame then kept shooting as the young man was laid on a stretcher and wheeled to a waiting ambulance and was driven away. I had what I needed and ran back to the synagogue, relieved to discover that the service was still underway. I could still get the requested shots of the recessional. I called my editor and told him that I didn't know exactly what had happened in Central Park, but I had frames and was emailing some over quickly as it seemed to be a major breaking incident.
The images sent, I refocused on the original assignment. It wasn't easy. I went through the frames I'd visualized earlier to regain composure. Minutes later, a great human was carried from a synagogue by friends and family, lowered into a waiting hearse and driven east toward his final resting place. Thirty-five minutes had passed since I first arrived.
I rushed to a nearby cafe' and again was at my laptop, this time sending frames to our desk of the funeral. With key images out and on the wire, I opened a new tab and entered a web search. "Central-Park-Explosion." My images were leading news sites around the world. It was surreal to see it happen so quickly. Reading the stories, I tried to get an understanding of what had happened. It was all still a mystery to me. Most was speculation, but it was guessed to a kids playing with fireworks scenario. It didn't make sense The sound first of all. But I had a strong recollection of two boys around the same age of the victim pleading innocence and confusion with police at the scene.
In the following days, I watched the story closely. What's guessed is that for some reason in the days prior, someone planted a homemade explosive device in the park. A concoction of chemicals that required no fuse and exploded when exposed to pressure. The victim, Connor Golden, is 18 and from Virginia. On a vacation to New York with his friends, the friends I had noticed, he was exploring Central Park on the beautiful day. He saw a side path, took it and leapt off a large rock landing squarely on the device. The injuries were severe and Connor, at 18 years of age, had his leg amputated from below the knee.
Forks in the road. I can imagine it's easy for Connor to look back and regret his. In all of the vastness of Central Park, fork after fork until he veered off the main track, down a dirt path, leapt off the rock...