The first thing Charles Carl Roberts IV did when he walked into the one-room Amish schoolhouse, police said, was to show the children his semiautomatic pistol.
Regional editor Tom Steacy said the story “would test the journalistic instincts and skills of nearly three dozen Inquirer reporters and photographers who, over the next six days, would try to explain how a private tragedy struck a very private community, the Amish of Pennsylvania.”
Yesterday, horse-drawn buggies parked not far from giant TV satellite trucks, their dishes pointed at the stars. The sky above buzzed with the drone of news helicopters, replacing the roar of emergency medical choppers that had descended earlier.
One judge commented that this story, in a crowded field of excellent entries, stood out for two reasons: “the quality of the reporting and the vibrant writing. When an ordinary man, a father of three, snapped and killed three little girls, plus himself … The Inquirer not only had to negotiate a rural community not exactly in its backyard, but an Amish community with no zeal or desire of any kind to stand in the spotlight.”
Another judge lauded the photography, “which captured the stark contrast of the two Amish men surrounded by police cars.”
Yet another judge said the “package was a prime example of ‘swarm coverage’ of a major event by a newspaper staff. In a crisis mode, they met the challenges and produced an excellent end product.”
Steacy said a major challenge of the story was the “ethical question as to whether photographing the Amish was intrusive.” One reporter said she “struggled with feelings of regret that I had to intrude upon their profound grief after such a shocking and unimaginable crime.”
“Our readers learned about a people who faced profound tragedy squarely, and with grace and forgiveness,” Steacy said.