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.”