Just before midnight on the day after California staffers were up late covering the midterm election came reports of a shooting at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Over the next 12 hours, as the scale of the carnage emerged, Sacramento correspondent Kathleen Ronayne, Washington-based reporters Mike Balsamo and Tami Abdollah, and photographer Mark Terrill and video journalist Krysta Fauria, both based in Los Angeles, combined to provide exclusive all-formats content for AP customers.
Despite the hour, Fauria and Terrill were on the scene within 90 minutes of the first reports coming in. Before police closed the area, Terrill and a photographer from a competing agency worked their way to a high spot that provided a good vantage point of the investigation. Terrill had an 800mm lens, twice as powerful as the competing photographer’s, and made tight shots of the scene unfolding below that no one else could match.
Fauria, meanwhile, quickly set up a live shot, the first of four she would do over 12 hours at three locations. With no reporter on the scene yet, Fauria was able to keep her shot as she got AP’s first interview from a survivor.
Police had indicated six people were shot and then by the time Terrill and Fauria arrived the number was 11. But there was no indication yet that anyone had died. Then, about three hours after the first reports, came the shocking news that 12 people, including a police officer, and the gunman were all dead.
Reporter Ronayne was in Los Angeles for election coverage with Sacramento colleague Jonathan Cooper and both were bleary-eyed from a long election night when they were dispatched to the scene. They arrived and began providing color and witness accounts. Ronayne was sent to the shooter’s house and cut her teeth on Bambuser to provide the first live video of authorities searching the home. Balsamo used a source to break the news that the murder weapon was a handgun, not an assault weapon often used in mass shootings.
Balsamo’s beat was used by ABC7, KNX radio and other media outlets in Los Angeles and well beyond. Terrill’s photos were featured in galleries in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and others.
While other news organizations used photos of the gunman taken off social media, Balsamo’s Washington colleague – and fellow AP-Los Angeles alumnus – Tami Abdollah used a source to obtain a driver’s license photo that is believed to be the first and still perhaps the only rights-cleared image of the gunman.
AP’s first-day coverage greatly benefited from entertainment courts reporter and former Los Angeles night breaking news staffer Andrew Dalton’s decision to work late to finish a piece of enterprise. He was the lone staffer in the Los Angeles bureau when news of the shooting broke and worked all night reporting and writing the initial versions of the story.
For providing news, photos and video that others couldn’t, Ronayne, Terrill, Balsamo, Abdollah and Fauria win this week’s Best of the States award.