Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Recalling the one year anniversary of the West Webster tragedies

On Facebook today, my former Democrat and Chronicle colleagues are posting their recounts of Christmas Eve 2012 and the tragedies that happened in West Webster. I will follow suit.

It was a day that was hard to forget.

That morning I figured I was in for an easy day at work and thought I could sleep in a bit. Then I checked my phone and leapt out of bed, barely took time to put myself together and went to the office. I saw the footage of smoke streaming up over Lake Ontario on the various TVs as I headed into the building.

As we'd later find out, a man named William Spengler had killed his sister, set the house ablaze and waited to ambush first responders. Two were killed. Two were injured.

"Don't take your coat off," my editor said when I got to the fourth floor. Beats aside, all hands on deck, I was going to Webster.

I stood out in the cold for several hours with the other reporters trying to gauge what was up before I was tasked with community reaction. Normally we were a chatty, social bunch but today things were tense and worried.

I went to a Webster bar. Instead of catching up and blowing off steam from shopping and cooking, people sat quietly around the tables, jumping and crowding around the television whenever a reporter cut in.

It had gotten late in the newsroom and people were working hard on a day they should have been cutting out early. Very apologetically, I was asked to cover the vigil back in Webster. I assured them I didn't mind, I had celebrated Christmas with my family a week earlier, but it was still hard standing there knowing those outside the fire house surely would rather be doing something else on Christmas Eve, but felt a pressing need to be there instead.

The fire chief hadn't planned on making a statement, but seeing the overwhelming crowd he came out, but barely choked out a few words.

One week later I covered the funeral of Tomasz Kaczowka, a 19-year-old who had volunteered for duty that day. Firefighters from across the state and beyond came to honor him.

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