In the month since five of my friends and colleagues were murdered in The Capital newsroom, those of us close to the crime have experienced an emotional avalanche. Grief, for sure, anger (more and more as the days pass), regret, guilt, doubt.
For me there has been another, unexpected experience.
It has come a few different ways, usually with a hesitant tone, like a whisper from the next desk at school.
“Did I ever tell you about the time ...” or “You remember when I told you ...” or, casually, “Yeah, I knew someone once who ...”
I recognize the tone now.
“Did I ever tell you about the time I was shot?”
“You remember when I told you about the shooting at my school?”
“Yeah, I know someone once who got shot.”
Friends, in one case family, who had been victims of gun violence. People who are dear to me and casual acquaintances, who had something terrible happen to them, or they saw something terrible. Something involving a gun.
And now, they can tell me. Because now, after what happened in Annapolis on June 28, I’m part of the club.
I don’t even know if “club” is the word — it’s more like I’ve joined an awareness. I’m privy to a world I was unaware of before this.
It’s a world with contours shaped by violence and recovery. A world that everyone who is not in the club doesn’t know about. Because the violence for each club member is so big, it’s impossible to share, literally impossible to communicate. It has to happen to you to understand.
And now that a criminal with a gun killed five of my friends, I don’t need it communicated, it doesn’t have to be explained. I’m in the club.
What has been astonishing to me is how did I not know? I have been a newspaper photojournalist for 19 years. I have been to countless crime scenes, interviewed dozens of victims of violence. Gun violence in all its many forms.
Robberies. Drive-by shootings. Suspects shot by police. Hostage stand-offs. Suicides. Too many domestic violence shootings, men killing women then killing themselves. Accidents. Deaths from combat overseas, veterans seeking help for having killed overseas. Drug deals gone bad, stupid corner beefs. And finally, sadly this year, school shootings.
Over the years, I noted the shapes of the scars on the arm of a woman shot at her front door in Eastport. I knelt to the ground to capture shell casings with evidence markers. I kept my camera pointed at the ground as police covered the body of a woman shot by her husband in her own driveway. I zoomed in on the faces of students leaving Great Mills High School after their shooting in March.
And in all that time, with all the empathy at my command, I just didn’t know what it was like. I didn’t know about the unspoken club. I didn’t know that I would be sharing stories quietly, making eye contact, talking about what happened.
In 2016, the University of Sydney compiled statistics on gun deaths in Maryland for that year and placed the number at 707. That's just the deaths. I imagine the circles of trauma and loss rippling from this number, and the club doesn't look so small anymore.
A friend told me about their shooting that happened as a teen and that a piece of the bullet still remains. I think, for all of us, pieces of the bullets remain.
Joshua McKerrow is a veteran photojournalist for Capital Gazette Newspapers. Follow Joshua on Twitter @joshuamckerrow.