New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel said that he didn’t expect a Kentucky town’s hostility toward a handful of journalists covering a horrific death in which a 5-year-old boy accidentally shot his 2-year-old sister.
The climax of that animosity came at the girl’s funeral in Burkesville, after which two men came outside and slugged a German cameraman. Two different men threatened Gabriel that he would be “next.” Gabriel noted, though, that it was an atypical and “extreme” reaction from the town’s residents.
“It became clear that some of the people at the funeral home were very unhappy that there was a television camera, although they were pretty far from the actual funeral home,” Gabriel said in an interview Monday morning.
“One of the things that surprised me right from the beginning was that there were sheriffs there the whole time,” he added. “I don’t usually see sheriffs in funerals at many cases, but maybe they knew. Maybe they were there to protect the party from outsiders.”
The girl’s death comes amid a heated national debate over gun violence, which has escalated since December’s elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
The story in Kentucky hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention on a national scope, but Gabriel made the trip because it provided new, interesting angles in the overall debate.
The boy shot his sister with a gun that was a gift from his grandmother, something that prompted questions about a culture in which 5-year-olds are given guns as gifts. Keystone Sporting Arms, the company that made the rifle used in the shooting, specialises in manufacturing firearms for children.
Burkesville, however, has largely rejected those questions and resisted becoming part of the national debate.
“They’re experiencing grief mixed with a high level of hostility,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel said that the German cameraman who was punched has filed a complaint with the county sheriff and an arrest warrant would likely be issued on Monday.
Gabriel was surprised at the animosity toward himself and the German camera crew, which he said were the only media covering the young girl’s funeral. Overall, the story hasn’t gotten much national attention outside of Gabriel’s New York Times coverage and wire stories.
But he emphasised that the one extreme reaction from the town’s residents was atypical.
“This is not what I expected. I expected it would be telling the story like other stories,” Gabriel said. “It was frustrating that so few people agreed to speak, but eventually, if you stand out and talk to people long enough, you’ll reel some people in. But, you know, I didn’t expect the hostility to be such a factor.”
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