Binghamton Shootings Remain With Reporter

Three months ago, 13 people were killed when a mentally-ill man named Jiverly Wong opened fire in an immigrant resources center in Binghamton, N.Y., then killed himself. Reporter Brian Mann covered the shooting and says the assignment wasn't easy.

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Three months ago, a gunman opened fired at an immigrant services center in Binghamton, New York. Jiverly Wong, mentally ill immigrant from Vietnam, murdered 13 people before taking his own life. Wasn't an easy assignment for Brian Mann, who covered the shooting. Here is his Reporter's Notebook.

BRIAN MANN: When these things happen in America - the Columbines, the Virginia Techs, and now Binghamton - the violence most of us see is brittle and distant.

(Soundbite of TV broadcast)

Unidentified Woman: Breaking news right now - a SWAT team is on the site of a shooting in Binghamton, New York, where there may be hostages. With me on the phone...

MANN: It's horror and tragedy, but it's also spectacle. If you touch that kind of thing, it feels flat and cold like the surface of a TV screen. But when I arrived in Binghamton the day of the shooting, it wasn't like that. On the street in the rain, I talked to a man named Amri Yigal, who wasn't sure if his wife was alive or dead. He was going home, alone, to wait.

Are you really okay to just go home by yourself tonight? I mean, seriously...

Mr. AMRI YIGAL: Well, I think so. If she is okay, she will come home first.

MANN: But Dolores Yigal was dead, his wife was dead. In a weird way it felt like a very small, very intimate thing.

In the weeks after I left I kept thinking about Amri alone in his house. I kept thinking about Binghamton. I kept thinking - what happens there now? What does it meant that this troubled young man, Jiverly Wong, murdered so many innocent and good people? What does it mean that this keeps happening in America?

When I went back to Binghamton, I found that everyone wanted to talk about these questions. I mean, they wanted to talk for hours. Usually reporters have to horn their way into people's lives. We wheedle and cajole. But I found cops and social workers and the mayor and grieving families. They literally held my hand. They held me in place. They insisted that I look at one more photograph, hear one more story, handle one more piece of this unfathomable thing that had happened in their lives.

Mr. YIGAL: Yeah, these are our wedding pictures. This is her. She is something else. It's so special to me.

MANN: Boy, look at you in your suit.

Mr. YIGAL: Yeah.

MANN: Aren't you dapper.

Mr. YIGAL: Yeah.

MANN: Unlike most of the people I talked to in Binghamton, I'm not religious. Unlike them, my life hasn't been torn apart by bullets and rage and sickness. Sometime I felt like exactly the wrong person to be sitting in these people's living rooms.

But one thing I do share with all of them - Muslim, Jewish, Christian - is a belief in memory, a belief in the power of the human voice and a conviction that telling stories and listening to those stories with all your might is sometimes the only thing you can do, because there are no answers exactly.

I asked a lot of people to help me understand this horrible violence that came to their city. And nobody knew, nobody had a clue, really. So here's what I did come away with, what I learned in Binghamton: After the rest of us move on, there are people who live in the sacred wreckage of these places. They live on the other side of that brittle surface. They will rebuild their lives as best they can in an intimacy of sorry that few of us will ever understand.

But I think the rest of us are obligated to hear them, as best we can, to listen to their stories, and remember.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann.

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