"How do you feel?" It's such a callous news cliché, especially shouted while sticking a mike in someone's face. But let's face it: When people are shot down senselessly -- as five high schoolers were at Marysville-Pilchuck High School near Seattle -- we want to know how their friends are taking it.
Unfortunately, we don’t find out in the Los Angeles Times' coverage of the church vigil that followed the shooting.
The article sets an appropriate mood at the local Grove Church, crowded with students grieving for their fallen classmates. The Times even notes that students from a rival school were there -- and that the other school canceled and forfeited a planned football game.
The story adds movingly what the shooter, Jaylen Fryberg, really did to the kids:
Each bullet that Fryberg fired tore apart the region's safety and calm. As dusk fell and rain threatened, hundreds of students and parents, teachers and neighbors gathered together in search of solace. There were hymns, prayers and a moment of silence punctuated by tears.
There was Scripture: "Come to me all of you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest." There was horror. And there was hope.
"I hate this tragedy as much as any of you," Pastor Nik Baumgart told the mourners who filled the church auditorium and its lobby and flowed out into the parking lot. "I hate what's going on. I hate what we've had to see.
"And I remember all kinds of times when I've had the same thoughts that you've had about that city, about that situation, about those schools," he continued. "Now that's us. Now that's my alma mater. Here's what we're here to do tonight. It's simple. It's honestly overly simple. Love one another. Weep together."
That's perceptive reporting. The minister doesn't rush to judge or say the dead girl was "in a better place." He just confesses human frailty, and asks everyone to love and weep.
What's missing, then? Voices of those who are grieving. The Times quotes the city's police chief and with a local doctor. It asks federal officers what kind of gun was used. And it cites a statement by the chairman of the Tulalip native American tribe, to whom the shooter belonged. But it adds little from the students themselves. The most is asking a football player about a possible motive for the crime.
The Times seemed to care more about Fryberg's emotional state:
Fryberg, the son of a prominent family in the Tulalip tribe of Native Americans, apparently was distraught over a recent breakup with his girlfriend. His postings on social media suggested that he was upset over personal relationships.
“It won't last ... it'll never last,” Fryberg said in his final posting on Twitter on Thursday.
Two days earlier he wrote: “It breaks me.... It actually does.... I know it seems like I'm sweating it off.... But I'm not.... And I never will be.”
Look at those details: Twitter, Fryberg's tribe, troubles with his girl. Why wasn’t the Times as curious about how the survivors felt? Or even how many attended the church vigil?
You may have also caught a few flickers of religious "ghosts." To which denomination does Grove Church belong? Why hold the vigil there, instead of a park or community center? Did the kids already know the pastor? And that quote from the Bible -- who said it? Probably wouldn't have shocked anyone to know it was Jesus.
The Times did a little better the next day, talking with a student about another shooting victim, Gia Soriano:
Hailee Simenson, a 16-year-old Tomahawks cheerleader, described Soriano as someone who was "really, really sweet and had a lot of friends."
"It's really hard for us," Simenson said hours after the shooting. "We're a close school ... It's scary ... not something I thought would happen at our school."
Austyn Neal, a 14-year-old freshman and classmate of Soriano, said the two had been in world history class Friday morning before Soriano was shot.
"She's funny, outgoing," Neal said. "She was shot in the head. It was going around the school and Twitter."
It's all touching, and the Times probably could have got similar quotes at the vigil the previous day.
People magazine had more, although admittedly a couple of days later. The story mentions the gifts at the makeshift memorial on the chain link fence, and it reports that Gia Soriano died Sunday night of her wounds. And it tells how the shootings have affected the Tulalip:
Earlier Sunday, parents and students gathered in a gymnasium at the school for a community meeting, with speakers urging support and prayers and tribal members playing drums and singing songs. Fryberg was from a prominent Tulalip Indian tribes family.
Young people hugged each other and cried, and speakers urged people to come together during the gathering Sunday.
"We just have to reach for that human spirit right now," said Deborah Parker, a member of the Tulalip Indian tribes.
"Our legs are still wobbly," said Tony Hatch, a cousin of one of the injured students. "We're really damaged right now."
Even better was the treatment in the Seattle Times. It quotes a number of students about their dead and wounded friends. One visited a memorial site with roses. Another set up a Gofundme.com page for one of the shooting victims -- and was amazed to see it reach his $10,000 goal in seven hours.
Quoted at length was Lukas Thorington, 14:
Thorington is a freshman at Marysville’s other public high school, Marysville Getchell, but Zoe, Shaylee and victim Nate Hatch were classmates of his in earlier grades.
He described the teenagers as ordinary, popular kids.
“Zoe was very outgoing,” Thorington said. “She was into sports. She was nice and awesome. She was fun to hang out with.”
Thorington first heard about the shooting while at school Friday. Since then, his mind has been on his friends.
“Last year, in eighth grade, there was a students versus staff basketball game,” he said, recalling that Zoe and Shaylee were both on the girls basketball team at Totem Middle School. “We were all playing basketball that day against the teachers. We won and we were all happy and celebrating.”
Thorington called Shaylee sociable and kind. She helped other kids with their problems, he said. The two girls were tight with Nate, a talkative football player and wrestler with a sense of humor.
“Nate, he’s really funny,” Thorington said. “It was kind of shocking to me when heard because they were all friends. I don’t know what happened.”
The Seattle story also says several churches plan to keep their doors open as gathering spaces -- even serving free breakfast and lunch, in one case.
See, despite what I said about sticking mikes into faces, people in such tragedies often want to talk out their thoughts and feelings -- if, of course, they're asked with courtesy and sympathy. It's almost like they are determined not to allow shock and horror to have the final word.
As Pastor Nik Baumgart of Grove Church tells the Seattle Times: “The goal is not to provide all the answers, but to gather and let each other know that you are not alone. To be alone you feel like it is 10-times worse. Grief shared makes it lighter — it will help us get through it and not just stew in it.”
Pastors can be vital in getting people through such things. So can media like the Los Angeles Times.