“Behind the South” – Kirsten Fiscus

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Kirsten Fiscus covers breaking news for the Tennessean. She previously covered breaking news for the Montgomery Advertiser and the Anniston Star. Fiscus recently covered The Covenant School shooting in Nashville, Tennessee on March 27.

Kirsten Fiscus

What challenges or obstacles did you face while covering The Covenant School shooting and how did you overcome them?

I’ve covered a mass shooting before. This is my first mass school shooting, which is sad that you have to differentiate those. I’m married but I don’t have any children and I was like, I can handle this. But I’ve always been a breaking news reporter for going on eight or nine years now and anything involving children has always kind of stuck in my heart a little bit more. So I was fine the first day. Because it was just so adrenaline packed and I was like, we gotta get the information out and I was so focused and dedicated to doing my job. Then the second day when it became my job to watch the body cam footage and explain in detail in writing what that body cam footage was, so other people wouldn’t have to watch it. That’s when the reality of it really hit me. Our bosses have been, to their credit, really cognizant of the emotional toll this has taken on all of us. Making sure we have days off. Even as far out as today,  we kind of split the staff. So half are off today on Friday and half are off on Monday and we’ve been doing that for the past like three weeks, so we can just have a break. So just kind of managing those emotions while still understanding that I have a job to do. But it’s also ok to be human.

Can you describe the reactions and emotions of the community members in Nashville in response to the shooting, and how are they coping with the shock and grief of this incident?

Activism has just exploded in Nashville as a result of this. People are taking it very personally and they’re moving to try and do something about it. It’s in a way that I’ve never personally seen before. There’s always the thoughts and prayers but I’ve never seen action, like this, at this scale. In the past I’ve seen like a vigil or a walk to end gun violence or something like that. But this has been repeated consistent activism in the Nashville community. It’s been amazing to watch, from a personal standpoint. But Nashville has really exploded with activism. I think people are angry and fired up; they legitimately want something done about it and they’re doing everything they can to make sure it gets done.

In the aftermath of the shooting, what measures have been taken to ensure the safety of students and staff at the Covenant School, and what support is being offered to those affected by the tragedy?

I haven’t really done much reporting about the school since, but I do know that they obviously took several weeks off of school. They provided counseling for their students and for the parents too. Just recently  they went back to school but they’re not in the building. I think another church has provided them space to go back to school there. So they don’t have to go back to the building where it happened. It’s a little bit of like the school themselves stepping up to help their students and their parents. But it’s also very much a community effort to help them heal outside of the space where this all happened.

How do incidents like the Covenant School shooting in Nashville impact the national conversation around gun violence and school safety?

This incident happened in a very blue city but in a very red state. So there’s a very big fight right now between the Tennessee legislature, between Nashville and the rest of the state. This incident has just kind of exploded it. So I think there is now a national spotlight on the state because of it. It’s really kind of highlighted the rest of the issues that are going on between Nashville and Tennessee. Could something have been done ahead of time if it had been reported that the shooter was under medical treatment for an emotional disorder? Could that have made a difference? We don’t know. But also, we’re never going to be able to find out because we don’t have these laws on the books. It’s just, pardon my language, a political shit storm.

What steps do you think can be taken to prevent similar tragedies in the future?

This is me speaking as a person and not necessarily as a reporter. Because I try not to share my opinions on things that are highly political but I don’t think arming teachers is the answer. My mom is a teacher, and I’ve listened to her talk about what it’s like in schools. I don’t think arming teachers is the answer. I do think that there needs to be better ways around mental health. I think we need to fund better mental health services, and I think along with that needs to be red flag laws. I think it’s a two-parter. I think they go hand-in-hand. So, I think that’s where it’s at.