On Point with Chris Papst
As part of my job, I occasionally venture into urban areas that some may not consider safe. When violent crime happens in these neighborhoods, I have to cover not only the breaking news angle, but also the aftermath as it pertains to the victims and their families. As a result, area residents aren't always welcoming. I've had things thrown at me. I've been the target of intense and hateful language. I've even been ordered to leave on no uncertain terms. It's always interesting and at times a little unnerving. But it can also be a learning experience.
Most of what happens – either verbal or physical - I take in stride while careful to avoid further confrontation. Rarely do these experiences affect me in any meaningful way. But something recently happened in a depressed part of Harrisburg that did trouble me, because it happened to a little kid.
The story begins in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve. Three armed men stormed into a convenience store, guns drawn and pointed directly at the clerk. With hammers cocked back, they force the clerk - who was the only person working - to open the till. They stole upwards of $1,500. But that wasn't enough. In a terrible display of violence, they pistol-whipped the clerk multiple times. He spent two days in the hospital with a broken nose and multiple head contusions. Before the suspects fled, they ripped the surveillance system hard drive out of the wall. Little did they know the owner had an internet back-up.
Kulwalt Khele, who owns the store, said, “It’s not only sad, it hurts. It hurts when you have somebody working for you and he’s hurt. It really hurts. When I saw him, me and my brother cried. Just looking at him – we cried. We didn’t care about the money gone. We didn’t care about the money. But thank God. We thank God he is still alive.”
A few days later, when we did this story, my photographer and I set up our live shot equipment in the parking lot of the convenience store, which is busy. While in the truck waiting for the 5:00 o'clock news to begin, we saw a half-dozen preteens ride up on their bikes. They were laughing and fooling around like normal kids. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a slight commotion. The kids then sprinted past our live truck while carrying their bikes. It seemed harmless. I thought nothing of it.
A few minutes later, we notice one of the kids had remained at the store. The heavy-set youngster was wondering around the parking lot with a look of anger and frustration. He was nearly crying. It turns out the kids who sprinted past our live truck were carrying his bike, which he just got for Christmas. This young boy, who was no older than 12, had no way home; no cell phone; no money. He was lost and terribly confused.
With no one else willing to help, my photographer gave the boy a cell phone to call his mother. He said he knew the kids who stole his bike, but he wasn't sure if he'd get it back. He was demoralized. He fought back the tears as best he could, but occasionally one would roll down his cheek, although he was quick to wipe it away.
I felt much empathy for this young boy. You could tell he was really proud of that bike. And you could also tell his mom probably sacrificed so he could have it. It pained him to tell her it was gone.
There's a lot to learn by going into urban areas that some may not consider safe. In this example, I learned how perilous and sad life can be.
Chris Papst is a two-time Emmy award winning reporter for CBS-21. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter@chrispapst.