Dear Alison Parker
Originally published on Slant.
Today, when I opened my computer, I saw your face on the front page of The New York Times' website. I honestly thought that it was because you were being featured for some stellar reporting. A coworker had mentioned something about "seeing the news," but I ignored him. I didn't need to see your name to recognize you instantly. "What has Alison done now?"
Of course, I was horrified to learn the truth.
You were doing your job, filming a live-remote story for a Roanoke news station, when you were killed. I learned that your videographer, Adam Ward, was killed as well. I learned that you weren't reporting on crime or any sort of breaking news that might put your life in danger. You were just reporting on local tourism. You were talking about beauty.
There was shock, then anger, then abject grief. My heart broke for you right then and there.
But in being completely overwhelmed, my mind jumped to somber reflection and appreciation for the impact that you have made in my life and in the lives of countless others.
I admit that I write to you selfishly. That a tribute might ease my pain, so I can celebrate you while the reality of your absence is still raw. That perhaps this rock in my stomach and lump in my throat might be relieved by expressing my gratitude for your short cameo in my life.
The first time I ever met you, you were working with a camera. I had arrived for my first semester at James Madison University, and I was only just starting to make my first batch of friends.
One of those new friends, Nina, texted me and asked if I could help her with a video project. This was freshman year, where one might spend two hours on a given day in a classroom, tops, and the rest of the day bouncing around and basking in the newfound freedom of college life. You were Nina's partner on this project. I can't remember why you needed some random freshman's help, or what the video was about, but I do remember meeting you.
In my memory, it's sunny and warm. You are wearing glasses. I remember your drawl, as you smile and say, "Pleased to meet you, Spincer" (Southerners tend to pronounce the "e" in my name as an "i"). I remember the video project being goofy and fun. That day was one of the first memories I have in terms of knowing that JMU was right for me.
I first met Alison working on a video project.
Your video project was for a class in the School of Media Arts & Design, but we all call it SMAD. I would choose the same major, and was lucky to be in a few classes with you.
To anyone in the major, you were a superstar. In a program that produced talents like ESPN reporter Lindsay Czarniak, yours was the name that was always on the tips of SMAD professors' tongues.
I can remember sitting in the television studio control room in the basement of Harrison as your face lit up the screen. You had already graduated by now and had accepted a job as a reporter. My professor, Ryan Parkhurst, was using a past live-remote you had conducted as the example of "what to do" when we were out in the field. The video my classmates and I were watching wasn't that of a fumbling novice. It was that of a seasoned pro, talented beyond her years, who was making it look easy.
You were standing on the steps of Harrison and the large, green Quad was in the background. You toned down your drawl and replaced it with a flawless non-regional dialect. The look on your face was beyond poised. It was the look of a young woman completely in her element, doing what she was put on Earth to do. "For JMU Today, I'm Alison Parker. Back to you..."
Our friendship would grow, and then begin to dissipate as you headed off for "real life" and I got more wrapped up in my own life. It's a pity that our paths didn't cross more often. I'm lucky, thanks to social media, that I was able to see you living life to the fullest and flourishing in your career. That you were so happy up until your passing simultaneously warms my heart and devastates me.
For now, we will all grieve. There is just too much sorrow to bear from such a senseless act. But we would be remiss if we didn't take this opportunity to celebrate your life and to be grateful for all you've given us. The gift of your friendship, presence, and existence must not be wasted.
In touching tributes on your Facebook page, your friends have called you many things: funny; energetic; driven; intelligent; fierce; sweet; ambitious; talented; nice. But superlatives won't truly do your incredible life justice.
We can't bring you back or change the past. We can only move forward. We can give to the scholarship that JMU has set up in your name. We can hope that there is something to learn from your death. We can hope that something can come from all this pain.
Just because you're no longer here doesn't mean that you're gone. You will continue to live on in the hearts of all those who were privileged enough to have met you. I take some comfort in knowing that you died doing the thing you loved most: journalism. I take even more comfort in knowing that although your time has been cut much too short, your impact is staggering. You have influenced many young kids to follow their passion for journalism, and you've touched the hearts of so many others with your kind spirit and zest for life.
Rest easy, Alison. Thanks for the memories, and may your light burn bright forever.
Cover photo courtesy of Spencer Dukoff