The neighborhood around the corner from last week’s fatal shooting looks like a nice place to live — narrow streets are shaded by shapely trees, and during the evening, Christmas lights cast their joy about manicured lots.
Late last week, that cheerfulness stood in stark contrast to the general mood. Gloomy. Wary. A little bit scary.
At least two people had just been shot within hours, within blocks. The nearby streets were filled with police. It didn’t feel as if danger had completely passed.
The past few days, as I’ve walked central Tracy’s streets at night, that fear has evaporated. At least for me.
For many, though, a recent spate of gang-related violence means that fear has lingered. And I certainly felt it that Friday night while walking to my second homicide scene of 2009.
On the way, I talked to some neighbors, who were huddled in blankets and in various states of dress and undress, standing in the 11th-hour chill within shouting distance of the East Street shooting.
One group had heard both shootings that night while gathered in the backyard. The first time, they only heard pops as a gun was unleashed on Holly Drive. The second time, they heard an argument, then gunshots, then a woman’s voice screaming for someone to wake up.
One of the neighbors good enough to share the story was still in the process of moving into the area with a significant other. Welcome to the neighborhood.
I bid them good night as they turned to go inside — they didn’t seem keen on staying out. Truthfully, neither did I. But the news doesn’t gather itself.
Walking toward the crime scene, I was on edge despite the heavy police presence.
Even as I passed officers scouring the street for evidence in the shadow of the Wayne Schneider Stadium bleachers, I didn’t feel better. Not with metal detectors scanning for spent shells, yellow tags marking the driveway and someone having just been spirited away to the hospital.
I would only find out hours later that Spencer Sampson, the gunshot victim, didn’t survive the night.
After being the first newsman on the scene after the Amore’s Restaurant shooting in October, I found the East Street scene unsettlingly familiar.
In some way, I suppose they’re all the same in a dreary way, with police, firefighters and even reporters strangely relaxed. But it’s not a comfort with the situation — it’s the comfort of doing your job.
I haven’t met anyone who enjoys being at a crime scene, documenting the gory details of what’s just changed someone’s life. But wallowing doesn’t help. Feeling nauseated is for later. When you’re there, you’ve got a job to do.
Still, Friday’s shooting affected me. It left me unsettled. With so much violence packed into 10 months — five homicides and a year-ending string of robberies and shootings — it felt like Tracy had reached a tipping point.
Now, a week removed from the crime scene tape, I’ve bounced back. I think this town’s safer and better than many people are giving it credit for. It’s filled with good people, and the fact that folks are fed up about crime is a good sign. It means we’re not done fighting. It means we’re ready to take an active role in our town’s future.
But for many, I understand that these events are a punch to the stomach.
I was reminded of that when I went into the newsroom later in the morning to break the story that Sampson had died. I first shared the news with some of our staff who were in the parking lot distributing papers. I told them simply: We’d had our fifth homicide.
There was an immediate reaction. Disbelief. Anger. Debate. Sadness. Acceptance. The five stages of grief — I saw them all before I turned, closed the door and jogged upstairs to file the story.
Jogged to put the story on the Internet, where it would no doubt be one of many tragic stories filed that day. Likely forgotten, except by the people whose lives will never be the same.
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