Brian Trinh was at the Eaton Centre on June 2 as a shopper, not a reporter. But when gunshots rang out in the Toronto mall's busy upscale food court, the Huffington Post Canada intern did what only journalists and emergency service employees do: He followed the sound of the shots and the screams to get to the scene of the story. Now, he recounts that day and the lessons he learned as a young reporter.

Brian Trinh was at the Eaton Centre on June 2 as a shopper, not a reporter. But when gunshots rang out in the Toronto mall's busy upscale food court, the Huffington Post Canada intern did what only journalists and emergency service employees do: He followed the sound of the shots and the screams to get to the scene of the story. Now, he recounts that day and the lessons he learned as a young reporter.

Post-It Notes on the doors at the Eaton Centre following the June 2 shooting. (Photo: Ian Muttoo/Flickr)

By Brian Trinh

It was an afternoon reserved for shopping, not a shooting.

My editor at the Huffington Post Canada later referred to it as a day I would never forget in my journalism career and rightfully so: very rarely does shopping in the Eaton Centre leave you front and centre of a brazen act of violence that killed two people and sent another six to hospital.  

I was one floor above the Urban Eatery when the shots were fired at 6:23 p.m.

Motivated by a mixture of curiosity and caution, I moved towards the Dundas Street end of the mall to where I thought the gunshots came from. After ducking behind a glass barrier near a clothing store, I joined a small group of people staring down into the Urban Eatery, which, at that moment, had no semblance of an upscale food court.

Trays of food lay scattered across the floor as patrons huddled together behind overturned chairs, distancing themselves from a man rocking back in forth on his side as he lay in a pool of red fluid.

My first tweet went out at 6:26 p.m. with those details: loud pops, a man on the floor and red fluid. I decided to play it safe with the facts and stuck with loud pops instead of gunshots and red fluid instead of blood until I could confirm otherwise.

I was stopped by no one as I went down the escalator and entered the Urban Eatery. Evacuating the mall and tending to the wounded were probably bigger concerns for security and EMS compared to dealing with an intern who needed to sate his sense of curiosity.

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I was about eight feet away from the injured man when someone yelled “apply pressure.” I was certain now that the red fluid was blood. My eyes moved around the food court floor where I counted at least six bullet casings and tweeted accordingly at 6:29 p.m.

Any earlier reservations that this wasn’t a shooting were gone now. The next order of business was to take photos and video for HuffPost. I had to be mindful that I was in the middle of a crime scene so I took photos on my phone from a far. But even with distance I put between myself and the bleeding man, taking photos still felt like a questionable decision. I knew it was necessary, given the web’s thirst for visuals but that didn’t change how difficult it felt.   

A woman later blocked off the area with barriers and told me to leave the food court. I went upstairs and made my first phone call to my news editor at 6:34 p.m. I asked him to put me in contact with the evening front page editor so we could get coverage up as soon as possible. My next phone call went out to my family in Mississauga. I told them that a family dinner wasn’t going to be happening tonight.

I went back to tweeting the details: how the lights in stores went dark, what police and security officers were yelling, and the sight of more injured bodies.

Bodies. Now there’s a term I used incorrectly throughout the day according to Mary Gazze, a reporter with the Canadian Press. “People”, “injured” or “victims” all would have been more accurate terms because unknown to me, “bodies” implied death according to her two tweets.

It was an important lesson I didn’t take away until the next day because there was still a lot to do: take more photos; shoot more video; find witnesses to talk to; and update the front page editor.

By 8:06 p.m. my phone was running on 10 per cent battery – the price I paid for not keeping my phone fully charged before going shopping. I turned data off and dimmed screen to conserve whatever power I had left because every little bit would be needed to cover the upcoming police announcement. 

The first scrum took place at 8:55p.m. and I used the remaining battery life to tweet the number of injured, call HuffPost’s front page editor and take one last photo of the Eaton Centre’s Queen Street entrance. My phone then shut down but I stuck around until Mayor Rob Ford delivered his announcement.

Another police announcement was expected to come afterwards but by now it was getting late. I had reached the point where my interest, my curiosity and attachment to the story needed to give way to whatever responsibilities I had to HuffPost to file in a timely matter. And so I left. I went home, filed the remaining photos, captions and video, and hoped a shopping trip in Mississauga would be less eventful. 

 

See also: When the news breaks: Inside two Toronto newsrooms