Two days earlier, Andrea L. Kruger, a wife, daughter and mother of three, was found murdered.
A group had gathered that day for prayers at the intersection where Kruger’s body had been left heartlessly in the the road in a pool of blood.
I watched the group of friends and residents from the neighborhood circle around the family, placing their hands on them as they prayed. I felt I was intruding on a private moment so I back away. Through the crowd I saw Ava Kruger, 4, standing in front of her widowed father. She held a balloon. Her grandfather’s hand was on her shoulder, comforting the confused, sad girl. Tears welled up in my eyes as I pressed the shutter release. I was far from finished with the assignment, but I couldn’t stop the tears. I kept the camera up to hide my eyes.
Suspect Nikko Jenkins is undergoing a psychiatric evaluation at the Lincoln Regional Center as a judge weighs whether he is competent to stand trial on four counts of first-degree murder.
Authorities say Jenkins went on a killing spree after being released from prison in July, targeting Curtis Bradford, a former prison buddy; Juan Uribe-Pena and Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz, whom he robbed; and Andrea Kruger, whose car he allegedly stole to commit another robbery.
Nothing I did the rest of the year, hundreds of assignments and tens of thousands of images, could stop me from thinking about Ava and her siblings Jadyn and Hartley. While I edited through my files to find my pictures of the year – and as I write this – the tears continue to fall.
Our job is to document the events that affect our community. Most of what I do is a celebration of our families as they attend sporting events, concerts, churches and schools, and enjoy the wild spaces of our beautiful state. But at times I’m given assignments that no sane person wants to face – tragic, unimaginably sad situations that stay with you, keeping you up at night and filling your dreams with sadness and horror.
As the prayer vigil for Kruger broke up, I turned my attention to a small memorial of balloons, flowers and hand-written tributes. An older gentleman standing next to me started a conversation. He thanked me for being there, telling me that he could tell it was hard for me to work in so much sadness. He probably noticed my red, puffy eyes. Later I found out it was Ava’s grandfather.
When asked to write about my favorite pictures of the year, I chose this one single image. The image is not technically my best of the year and I wish it never had to be taken. Yet it means more to me than all of the sunsets, championship games and special events that I’ve covered in 2013.