Agated Central Coast community became the unwelcome focus of the nation’s news eye (almost as scary as the Eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings) after Pentagon shooter John Patrick Bedell injured two police officers and was killed in a March 4 shootout.
Ridgemark, the golf complex just outside Hollister where Bedell’s parents make their home, was invaded by reporters trying to tell the Pentagon attacker’s back story.
Approaching the security-guarded gate after getting lost driving through Hollister’s green hills and cherry trees, I assess my options: Tell the truth and likely be turned around, or make up something on the spot to get through. I choose the former. The nice security guy says the family isn’t answering its phone and I have to turn around. I’m relieved not to have to knock on the door of the dead man’s family.
I stop in Mars Hill Coffeehouse expecting a line of pundits ordering lattes, but only find Associated Press journalist Haven Daley uploading video on his laptop. Daley had driven over from San Francisco this morning with an assignment to get the mother and father on camera.
“My realistic marching order: Get someone to say Bedell in a soundbite,” he says, adding that, as expected, townsfolk are all saying the same thing: good family, never saw it coming.
Later on, the Associated Press breaks news that the San Benito County Sheriff Department investigated Bedell as a missing person in January. Sheriff Curtis Hill was quickly turning into the go-to source.
Television crews cram into the department’s small waiting room. A sheriff employee walks in, jokingly asking, “What’s going on?” A cameraman quips: “Winning lottery ticket.”
Word gets out of a 12:30 press conference. Nobody likes that – the journalists want their interviews now. Part of me wants to scale the gate, try to get the first interview with Bedell’s parents and beat out all the other out-of-towners. But like everyone else, I can’t resist the comfort food of the staged Q&A.
As cameras aim at him in the Board of Supervisors chambers, Sheriff Hill delivers the family’s statement and details Bedell’s mental health history, pot use and $600 purchase at a shooting range. It’s enough to stitch together a story line. The media circus scatters.
Back at Ridgemark, an ABC KGO-TV San Francisco truck camps for a fitting broadcast backdrop. Golfer Jerry Hawkins pulls up in his cart and reporter Karina Rusk scores an interview. The former KION anchor says you have to treat everyone with respect when covering such tragedies. Bedell’s family released the statement through her: “They made it clear they wanted their privacy.”
“There’s some level of professionalism that you have to hang on to but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get to you,’’ says Salinas native Daniel Villareal, a Bay Area KRON 4 video journalist.
After a press conference do-over by Hill, Wall Street Journal reporter Stu Woo checks his Blackberry. Woo had never been to Hollister before getting the assignment. He found a way into the gate but didn’t get to talk to the family. “I actually hate doing that, but I force myself,” he says.