Thursday, December 6, 2007

Omaha massacre story, with suggested edit

From the Omaha paper, via http://www.gangrey.com/:

Deadliest Hour

The gunman in middle america
Henry Cordes: With only 20 shopping days till Christmas, Von Maur customer service workers busily folded bright wrapping paper around the gifts of eager customers.
A nearby elevator door opened.
Into the festive scene Wednesday strode Robert A. Hawkins, about to unleash the worst killing spree in Nebraska since the 1958 rampage of Charles Starkweather.
He was toting a Russian semiautomatic rifle.
And suddenly, the light holiday sound of the store's piano was punctuated by the pop-pop-pop of rapid gunfire.

I think this opening would be much stronger like this:

With only 20 shopping days till Christmas, Von Maur customer service workers busily folded bright wrapping paper around the gifts of eager customers.
A nearby elevator door opened.
Into the festive scene Wednesday strode Robert A. Hawkins.
He was toting a Russian semiautomatic rifle.
And suddenly, the light holiday sound of the store's piano was punctuated by the pop-pop-pop of rapid gunfire.

Why?

Because to me, the power of that opening lies in the simple sentence, "He was toting a Russian semiautomatic rifle." It is the moment in the story when everything goes wrong. But when you already have told people what he "was about to" do, you steal all the power from the sentence, the scene, and you dilute the horror of a normal day turning into a massacre. (Beyond that ... why do you need to rank it among statewide massacres in the 3rd graf? That is one of those historical things journalists think about but no one, ever, has thought about while they are experiencing something like that. It can come later in the story -- even if this was the lead story on this event in the Omaha paper today).

What does anyone else think? Any other edits you'd make to this, or, would you leave as is, and why?