'We help you cry'

Saturday, I joined photographers Brian Ray and Jonathan Woods in covering the funeral for the Sueppel family. Reporter Scott Dochterman wrote in his lede, " In forgiveness and reconciliation, the Sueppel and Kesterson families stood as one Saturday in the face of pain, suffering and questions that can never be answered." Read Scott's story here. Brian was selected as the pool photographer for the funeral and the burial, which meant he was the sole photographer inside the church and close to the family at the burial. I waited at a coffee shop around the corner to transmit Jon's photos from outside the church, making the Gazette the first paper to have photos online. I shot a few photos as the funeral ended, before heading to a location I had scouted the day before along the procession route to photograph the six hearses on the way to the cemetery.

The light outside the church was gorgeous, and gave the white caskets of the children an almost ethereal glow. This boy's angelic innocence was amplified by the adults that surrounded him.

While Brian photographed the burial from closer in, I stayed back with the other photographers at a respectful distance to capture a wider view.

The mass of people surrounded the caskets, so making photos was nearly impossible from my distance (even with a 400 mm lens and a 1.4x converter), until people started to leave.

It's easy to let yourself focus on your work when covering something like this, and forget about the meaning behind it. But when I saw this boy leaving the burial with (I assume) his father, it became more real for me. The nature of the situation made the presence of children more poignant, and I can't imagine what this boy had been through while he tried to understand the events of the week prior. Once they were out of my range, I finally took the camera away from my eye for a moment and let the meaning and sadness of the day sink in. The strength and faith of these two families in the face of such a tragedy was so moving to witness.

After we all finished editing our hundreds upon hundreds of photos from the funeral and burial services, Jon and I got to work digging through two hours of audio from the funeral (where we had plugged his Merentz in to the soundboard) and building a slideshow. We went three or four hours past the deadline we had originally aimed for (9 p.m. against a 5 p.m. deadline), but the extra hours were worth it; the audio makes the photos all the more meaningful, and really presents what we hope is a powerful, moving tribute to the family as those left behind struggle to comprehend and forgive. Jon's posted our new and improved version of the project here.

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