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Monday, April 19, 2021

Colorado photojournalist froze while covering Sutherland Springs church shooting

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Even before the shooting that left 12 dead at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, journalists around the world were covering the tragedy. As Sunday’s mass shooting unfolded, Colorado photojournalist Tyler Hilinski sensed something was wrong.

Kolten Parker/Huffington Post

Hilinski had been covering a custody hearing in nearby Mcleod County, at the front door of the community where the church is located. As the shots rang out, he tried to remain calm.

“The judge was explaining his case, and I just got this immediate panic,” Hilinski said. “I knew something bad was happening. And at that point I was just panicking and crying.”

Hilinski had traveled to the Denver area specifically to cover the court proceedings on behalf of The Spokesman-Review, a local newspaper. A Fort Worth, Texas, native who works at the Kansas City Star, Hilinski had only been in town less than two weeks when the shooting began. He was working with two others, photographer Kolten Parker and reporter Kelly Killeen.

Kolten Parker/Huffington Post

Parker was at the front door, photographing Texas A&M student David Taylor, a former South Johnson County Sheriff’s officer. As he stood on the outside of the church during the shooting, he feared for his life.

“I turned and tried to take some pictures, and I looked up at this guy with the pistol who was shooting. I’m shouting, ‘A man with a gun in my backyard.’”

Kolten Parker/Huffington Post

Hilinski and Parker remained in disbelief when they heard it was a 26-year-old woman, the gunman’s mother, who killed the 14 people in the church.

Parker said his feelings on gun violence had transformed after Friday’s attack.

“I’m very skeptical,” Parker said. “With the gun issues, you hear the rhetoric — one side, totally, completely down with it and fighting for it, and the other side — which I believe is the majority of the population — I want everything different. So right now it kind of pushes me toward the other side. I’m hoping for something better.”

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