How We Got The Story: Setting aside dinner to cover a mall shooting

  • Tri-Cities reporter Susan Sarkauskas.25th anniversary portrait.

    Tri-Cities reporter Susan Sarkauskas.25th anniversary portrait.

 
 
Posted1/10/2022 1:00 AM

It was around 6:20 p.m. Dec. 23. I was working from home, and had just wrapped up my work day. I was contemplating what I could make or order for dinner, and about to tune in to an "NCIS" episode online.

Then I got a ding on Facebook Live, from a Chicago TV station: There was a shooting at Oakbrook Center.

 

"Holy crap," I said to myself.

Shooting. Two days before Christmas. In upscale Oak Brook. Where, just a few weeks earlier, a mob had brazenly robbed a Louis Vuitton store.

I immediately sent an email to our nighttime copy desk editors.

And then, unprompted, I started looking for information on social-media sites of people who monitor police and fire radio scanners. While they are not primary sources, they are often fairly accurate. One that monitors frequencies in DuPage County posted that several people had been shot and a person was in custody.

I logged in to my Broadcastify.com account to find a police or fire feed for that area of DuPage. I couldn't find one for Oak Brook, but I figured this was the type of event that would require mutual aid from neighboring towns, so I checked for the Westmont Fire Department feed.

Bingo. Everybody and their brother was being called to the mall, or as backup to the Oak Brook Fire Department, as part of the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System.

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As I listened to the initial call-out and then real-time response, I kept emailing editors. I told them that if somebody were arrested that night, I planned to go to bond call the next day. I asked the state's attorney's office to alert me to anything. I told editors about roads shut down. I gave directions to reporter Steve Zalusky, who was heading to the mall.

And at 7:15 p.m., I was officially asked if I could work the hours to be the lead writer on the story. Zalusky attended press conferences and managed to find some store workers who had escaped early on. He fed his stuff to me.

DuPage County Board member Pete DiCianni, who had relatives locked down at the mall, told me Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso had been there. I called him and discovered both he and his daughter had been hunkered in the basement of the Apple store.

And so it continued until well after 10 p.m. Before going to bed, I shot off an email to the mall owners, letting them know I wanted to talk to them Friday about the incident. I rechecked for criminal charges. I made plans for Friday.

As for dinner? Because it soon became too late to order Chinese for delivery. I ended up making scrambled eggs and toast.

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