A simple sightseeing trip June 10 in Washington, D.C., turned into a media storm for friend Susie Towater.
Susie came to Washington to attend a Volunteers for America event, then to stay with us at our home in Vienna, Virginia. Susie and my wife Marilyn, Chi Omega sisters from undergraduate school, planned a simple visit, mostly working in our flowerbeds, a shared passion. Susie was excited that Marilyn bought her a new pair of garden gloves for her use here.
But on Wednesday, June 10, 2009, Susie and husband Charlie, wanted to see the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Susie was five minutes late meeting Charlie at the Museum. That five-minute delay meant that they were across the street when gunman James W. von Brunn, 88, of Annapolis, Maryland, began firing a .22 caliber rifle at the chest of security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns, 39, before other guards shot him.
“We heard the gunshots as we walked toward the museum,” Susie said. “It was a pop, pop, pop, and Charlie said it was gun fire, but I thought it was cars backfiring.”
As Susie and Charlie approached the Museum, they saw a security guard run out of the building, then they saw the body of the gunman lying on the sidewalk. “The police did not seem to be concerned about him,” Susie said, “for they knew he was not going anywhere.”
Moments later, a media storm changed Susie’s quiet visit with old friends into her 15 minutes of fame. She was interviewed by the police, and then the media descended on her. She was a guest on Fox New Channel’s America’s Newsroom program, CBS, and MSNBC’s Hardball.
She was interviewed via her cell phone by Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto while being driven home in a CBS limo after her appearance on that channel.
Print media interviews included cover photos of Susie in the Washington Post, Washington Times, and USA Today, plus interviews with Associated Press and in newspapers from Canada, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Tampa, her home town.
It was interesting for me to see how the media treats eye witnesses whose stories they wish to get. Susie was staying at our house, and the media kept after her. MSNBC sent a limo to pick her up for an appearance on Chris Matthew’s Hardball show Thursday at 5 p.m. Susie had met Matthews at the Volunteers for America function June 5. Susie, a true Southern lady who tends to be conservative, has a wonderful sense of humor. When introduced to Matthews, Susie said, “I am so pleased to meet you, for you are my favorite conservative!” Ultra-liberal Matthews proved to be a good sport, seeing the humor in it.
When being prepped for her appearance on Hardball, Susie asked the intern helping her for any tips. “Don’t worry about it, because Chris will interrupt you and talk over you anyway,” the intern said.
At CBS’ studio, a nervous Susie was counseled by another intern who said, “Don’t worry. All this will be over tomorrow.” Such is the fleeting nature of being a media darling. Sure enough, as I write this, Marilyn and Susie are browsing local flower nurseries unimpeded. Like an afternoon thunderstorm down South, Susie’s media storm has blown over.
But it was fun for a while, Susie said. “The most fun was my husband Charlie telling Matt Lauer that we would not come to New York to be on the Today show with him. I wanted to work in the yard with Marilyn.”