Meet the Photographer Who Took the First Photos from the Scene of the Newtown Shooting

Shannon Hicks rushed to the shooting scene wearing two hats: a newspaper editor and a volunteer firefighter.

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Shannon Hicks, Newtown Bee/AP

In this photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., following a reported shooting there Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.

The first photograph to emerge from the scene of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was also the most iconic: One girl wept with her mouth wide open as others, eyes closed and heads bowed, fumbled their way through the school parking lot, hands on each others’ shoulders, following a police protocol so they wouldn’t see the grisly crime scene.

(INTERVIEW: TIME Talks to Shannon Hicks, the Woman Who Took the Iconic Sandy Hook Photo)

The image, which appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the country, was taken by photographer Shannon Hicks, who rushed to the scene of the shooting in her capacity as both a newspaper editor and a volunteer firefighter, NPR reports.

Hicks is the associate editor of the Newtown Bee, a weekly local newspaper with a circulation of 29,000. When she arrived on the scene, she started photographing while still inside her car — one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding the camera, her colleague John Voket told Poynter. Through the windshield, Hicks captured some of the earliest photographs of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.

When another editor from her newspaper arrived 20 minutes later, Hicks, who has volunteered at the local fire station for the past three and half years, put down her camera and joined the other firefighters.

“I literally put on my firefighter gear,” she told Poynter. “I was there as a firefighter probably for not even more than 20 minutes before my editor said he wanted me back in the office to work with him to coordinate coverage from there.”

When asked later about photographing the students who were still stunned by the shooting, she told Poynter she was “conflicted.”

“I don’t want people to be upset with me, and I do appreciate the journalists, especially, who have commented, saying ‘We’re just documenting the news,’ ” Hicks said.

“It’s harder when it’s in your hometown and these are children we’re gonna watch grow up, the ones who made it. I know people are gonna be upset, but at the same time I felt I was doing something important.”

MORE: Kids at Tragedies: Turn Off the Cameras

29 comments
SteveKing
SteveKing

There was no shooting. This was a stage set. Not ONE body on a stretcher or story from anyone covered in blood  attempting to save a victim or carry them out of the building. NOTHING...this is a joke.

whatthehay
whatthehay

Yes a horrible tragedy. This is an iconic historical photo. I believe this picture honors the victims and captures a moment in time. It reminds me of some 911 pictures. The photographer was doing her job just like others have done for a 100 plus years going back to the civil war. I would rather focus on the victims and families pain than make this the story. Its just a picture of freightened children being saved. To me it shows the childrens heroism and although some parents don't like it, tough, their kids are alive. Don't distract from those that should be honored and remembered.

Ph0t0gr4pher
Ph0t0gr4pher

I would suggest reading the NPR article before demonizing Shannon Hicks.

The NPR article clarifies Shannon Hicks arrived on scene as an associate editor, which is when she took the photograph.  Therefore, she did not breach trust as a first responder.

The article goes on to clarify Shannon Hicks then changed into her firefighting gear once another editor arrived.

Bare in mind, Shannon Hicks is a 'VOLUNTEER' firefighter and her employer is The Bee.  Therefore, while on the clock, Shannon had an obligation to honor her employer's request to go back to the office.

Legally, permission (a release) is not required for 'Editorial Use' as this is protected under the first amendment. 

cdonthemove
cdonthemove

She should be removed from the volunteer fire role and sued by any parent who is upset that their kid's photo was published.  This is significant breach of trust for any first responder irrespective of the fact that her other job might be with the press.  Interesting too that she demobilized herself to go back the press role. 

LisaPenleyUotinen
LisaPenleyUotinen

The problem with submitting the photograph to the AP is that the picture was of KIDS and Shannon Hicks did NOT have the permission from their parents. Period. We talk about protecting the kids and keeping them safe as our first concern. However, by submitting this photograph, Shannon did the opposite. She submitted their pictures, without parental approval - heck, she didn't even ask the kids if they minded- to the AP and from there, to computer screens and news shows all over the world. Shannon had to know this would happen. How important is it to "show" people what was going on? Was it important enough to take a picture of a terrified child, sobbing with her mouth open, and send it to the AP without the child's permission - or the parent?

AllisonPham023
AllisonPham023

we already know why, but everybody is afraid to say it: SINGLE MOTHERS. over 30 years of social science research shows that the vast majority of felons behind bars are the product of SINLGE MOTHERS. when you remove men from the family, you're only asking for trouble....MANHOOD101. COM

VioletFranBuck
VioletFranBuck

This is what I would want my EMS doing-taking pictures instead of helping?  I think they invade peoples privacy anymore in such a sick way. I wouldn't want my anguished face posted on the front page of every newspaper in the country. Anything for a sale-I'm sure she didn't give away this picture or any of them for that matter for free.

KristinLongoPanayoutou
KristinLongoPanayoutou

These photos are painful but let them serve as our reminder that it is OUR duty to honor these victims (both living and deceased) and never stop fighting to reduce the chance of this happening again.

It's all too easy to go back to our everyday lives....but these images are our reminder that we can never forget and need to be their advocates forever more.

jeffcox
jeffcox

For some reason, I have less problems with this photo than the one of the young woman gasping in horror as she learns from her cell phone that her sister was lost.  That was just incredible intrusive into a moment that should have remained personal.

I hope the digital file is destroyed and that photo never appears again. 

KendraJames14
KendraJames14

I'm glad the people of Newton are finally in recovery mode, I know they will be forever changed but at least they are trying to get back to where they were before this tragedy, Here are some inspiring photos http://bit.ly/T7LSRA

blb
blb

I have conflicted feelings re this as both a former EMS vol and a former reporter at the same time, also in a small town. Chances are Ms. Hicks heard the call come out over a fire radio and was given access to the scene if PD or FD had secured the scene as EMS personnel. As such, she must maintain confidentiality.I sincerely wonder if those that waved her on to the scene, if anyone did so, would have let her through if she had noted that she was going as press and not EMS.I think frankly she should have worn one hat or the other for the event, because of the issue re confidentiality, but that is my personal opinion. I think she compromised herself as EMS, and opened her FD up to liability frankly.

DestineyMarshFischer
DestineyMarshFischer

Let these families grieve, Yes we would know what was going out without these pictures!!!!!! What's wrong with us as a society, really you find this to be ok?  Pictures of parents in the news crying ready to fall because they found out their child is dead kids in fear some witnessing their best friends being killed in front of them, Congratulations you caught the worst moment of their lives and it's now circulating through the internet so they have to relive this pain over and over again. There are pictures going out of the beautiful children who passed, happy with smiles, I think it's heartbreaking but as a mother that's what I would want to see. Not pictures of terrified school children. We are a Morbid culture wanting to know all the morbid details and we wonder whats wrong with Society! We are, I would love to only blame the Media but they wouldn't do this if it didn't sell. This is why we no longer allow the Media in our home aside from the internet! No I am not a religious freak I am just starting to really dislike the society I am raising my children in, This desensitization to human emotion and events , after how this was handled and being used to push agendas ... I don't see it getting better. This photographer is not a victim! 

JudyDixonGabaldon
JudyDixonGabaldon

This photo needed to be taken - and shown to everyone.  As heartbreaking as it was, it showed the survivors and one of the brave and competent teachers leading them out, following the instructions to "close your eyes, and follow the leader".  This photo was the most dramatic and revealing of all I saw that day, and it spoke of the huge, unprecedented (because of the age of the victims) tragedy that it was.

MitchLabuda
MitchLabuda

Making photographs of tragic events serve to document the events. This image shows the reaction of the kids and the strength of the teachers, both equally strong and important for us

JaredSkye
JaredSkye

Listen, if it wasn't for the press taking photos of things like this and being "vultures" by flocking to the scene, none you you people would have any damn clue of what went on that day. At all. I'm the first to criticize the way the press throws inaccurate information sometimes to be "first" at reporting, but documenting the terror and confusion of this stuff is important. This is the entire job of the press. To get pictures and information so YOU know what the hell's going on.

commentonitall
commentonitall

So Joe Klein says to shun violent medium creators, yet the very magazine he works for is treating the first photographer on scene like some sort of hero because they were first to get there. What a hypocritical moron. What about the bible, its the most sold book ever and has some of the most violent scenes in any other medium. How many people have committed atrocities because they were influenced by the bible. You see Joe Klein and Time, you can't pick and choose your mediums if they all contain the same thing, but to do that would be to include yourselves as the ones who should be shunned. To take a tragedy and use it as a means to propagate YOUR personal views is more monstrous than anything I have ever read or seen in any medium. I just lost a lot of respect for your magazine and shame on you. Hypocritical and wrong equals you.

Photodog
Photodog

This is sick!  Too early for the journalist to pat themselves on their own backs!  KIDS DIED!!! That is the STORY, NOT YOU!  Hope this is the last  one like this.  I used to be a photojournalist myself and was called Vulture for a reason.  We chased dead bodies and made a living off that but honestly, writing about the first photographer on the scene and glamorizing that when children died is a new low for the media. 

KendraJames14
KendraJames14

Wow, this is kind of a pity post...But Photography part of our society now.. I'm just glad for this photographer who is showing encouraging photos of Newton starting to turn back around and get back to how things were before the tragedy  http://bit.ly/T7LSRA  Touching photos just days after a horrific event

reallytime
reallytime

If you use someone else's misfortune to draw attention to yourself (TIME), you're the lowest human here

sheeha
sheeha

what is this fricking story.   the press running there like ambulence chasers.   It is pathetic to me when the press wants to be the news instead of reporting it.  this kind of story is BS.  

LisaPenleyUotinen
LisaPenleyUotinen

@Ph0t0gr4pherI'm quite aware that Shannon legally could send that photograph to the AP for publications. It may be legal, but that still doesn't change the feeling of violation that the parents feel when a picture of their kid is being exploited all over the world. It still doesn't change the feelings of the sobbing kid who is going to have to live with that picture being replayed for quite some time. Can we acknowledge this situation as further violation for traumatized children and parents? Can we get past the legality and see the real pain that accompanies the publication of a photo like that?

Ph0t0gr4pher
Ph0t0gr4pher

@LisaPenleyUotinen  Shannon Hicks does not require parental consent to publish the photograph as it is considered news/ editorial. I would suggest you look into the laws that govern photography.

TheodoraDylan
TheodoraDylan

@jeffcox For me that photo expresses exactly what I felt when I suddenly realized the devastating amount of children & adults that were murdered. I had been reading online that there was a shooting and possibly one dead and another shot in the foot, which is terrible in itself. But when I saw a headline of  26 dead and mostly children I was stunned, horrified & utterly heartbroken. I shared that girls grief that I saw in that picture. 

Later when I found out that the girl in the picture was the sister of the very brave teacher Victoria Soto I felt heartbreak & compassion all over again. Pictures, even very sad grief stricken ones connect us in humanity. 

DoriSahagian
DoriSahagian

Jeff...I don't know how old you are, but I am 50 years old.  I remember a pic from Life magazine during the Vietnam war where a group of children were running from a village that had just been Napalmed.  One of the children was nude, after tearing off her clothes which had caught fire.  Some pics, however horrific and invasive will remain on our collective conscience.  I think (though I'm not sure) the Vietnam pic won the Pulitzer Prize.  I have a feeling Ms. Soto's pic is going to have the same impact..

aphex242
aphex242

@sheeha Actually I think this is a fairly interesting story, given the fact that she was also an emergency services person.  Your complaint seems silly - don't like it, don't read it.  Nobody's twisting your arm.  The image she took is striking, and helps capture the feeling of how terrible that event really was.

jeffcox
jeffcox

@saltthewalt   I know.  It was just a hope I had (as unrealistic as it might be).

reallytime
reallytime

@aphex242 @sheeha Shannon Hicks would have been more heroic if she had prevented Regina Wang from writing this. She knows she could benefit from the photo, and says so... but she doesn't do anything to prevent that. Hypocrite. She would have done better to have said nothing. Instead, we get a human piece about the emotional toll on someone who responded early because she also has ties to emergency services. Volunteer firefighter? or just another way of getting the good stuff first.