"Simply too much. Thinking of everyone who is dealing with this tonight on any level."
I posted these sentiments on Instagram and Facebook in the middle of sifting through thousands of heartbreaking images after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.
My task: edit pictures for the front page and inside pages of the Saturday paper. But I paused and admitted feeling overwhelmed with a conference room table covered with pictures. Not since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina had I been this moved by what was staring back at me. Dealing with these stories, one has to be very decisive in choosing photographs to get through the catastrophic news. This one felt different.
I was paralyzed by the facts: 20 little kids dead by what was sounding more and more like execution-style shootings; heroic teachers fought with the gunman and lost their lives. Although the images were not graphic by showing a bloody scene, they were haunting, tragically personal and invasive. The photos revealed raw emotion, personal grief that I haven't seen before. Almost all of us can relate to the anguish of a grief-stricken parent at a school that is supposed to be a safe haven of learning.
We had a responsibility to visually tell this story to Bee readers in print and in online galleries. Pictures are messengers. Pictures have the power to change policy.
Moments after posting to social media, there were multiple responses from fellow picture editors throughout the country. Denver. San Jose. Indiana. Florida. They all related to my feelings of despair of the young lives lost.
"Sue, I was writing a post earlier along the same lines and just stopped. I couldn't find the words. Thanks for expressing this. I think we've all edited too much tragedy this year," wrote Ken D. Lyons, a senior photo editor at the Denver Post, where they have experienced their share of carnage via guns and mental illness.
Another friend, Tanya Domi, a professor at Columbia University, posted: "Thanks for doing this for all of us to look and yes, confront the ugly truth."
Nine days and many funerals later, we have posted hundreds of pictures in several galleries on sacbee.com: funerals in Newtown; moments of silence for the victims; students returning to school; victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, where renewed heartbreak surfaces upon seeing innocent faces.
With more coverage to come, the question of how much is enough and how it's portrayed for readers begs to be addressed. We will continue publishing the pictures online and in print.
A post on my Facebook page that helped me move forward came from a mentor, photographer Bryan Moss: "All Americans should have to look at all of these pictures."
Pictures are the messengers to create change; they help us to not forget. And, quoting my boss, Mark Morris, "the pictures heal us."