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'Dallas Morning News' Photographer Tom Fox On His Close Encounter With Gunman


You may have seen it. The photo has been everywhere on social media - a gunman, this week outside a federal courthouse in Dallas. It's one of those pictures that makes you wonder just how the photographer got it. The gunman appears to be only a few feet away from the camera, a military-style rifle in his hand. He's decked out in tactical gear, wearing a face mask with a hole for his eyes, and those eyes appear to be looking right into the camera.

Soon after the photo was taken, the gunman was shot dead by law enforcement. No one else was seriously injured. To hear the story of the photo, I spoke to the person who took it, Tom Fox of The Dallas Morning News. He told me about the moment he first heard the shooter.

TOM FOX: There was about three quick shots. And at the time, it sounded like backfire.

KELLY: Like of a car or something, you mean.

FOX: Oh, a car - yeah. But then when I heard, like, the fourth, fifth and sixth and repetitive, it was like - OK, that's a shooter. The buildings that are around you are echoing, so I'm not sure where the sounds are coming from yet.

And I looked down the sidewalk, and there's two people running at me, a security guard and, I think, a lawyer. And as they were coming at me, I just instinctively just pulled up my wide-angle lens and photographed them as they ran past me. And I looked down the sidewalk, and I noticed there's somebody else. So I pull up my camera to see who it is. And I look through the lens. And when he swung around and I saw the muzzle of the gun, I immediately identified him as the shooter.

KELLY: Yeah, gosh.

FOX: And so I got up and ran. And it wasn't too far. But I just - at that moment, I thought, I don't want to be shot in the back, and I need to find some cover. And there's really no place to hide. But there are these...

KELLY: You found a little, like, alcove that you could duck into.

FOX: There was a little alcove, yeah. And I just made myself as small as I could in that little corner.

KELLY: And that photo that I described that so many of us have now seen, how close were you?

FOX: It's like a half a football field, probably - 50, 60 yards or so.

KELLY: What was going through your head taking that picture?

FOX: I - it - nothing. I mean, I was just - I was just like, where are these...

KELLY: It's just instinct.

FOX: It's just instinct.

KELLY: I'm a photographer. I'm going to take a photograph.

FOX: Exactly. I'm thinking it's another person. Like, two people just passed me. I haven't identified him as a shooter until I looked through the lens. I didn't get scared - really scared until it was quiet, and I'm in the corner. And I'm assuming he's advancing at me and he's going to pass me. And I just kept saying to myself - I just kept praying just, please don't pass me; do not see me.

And it wasn't till I heard some voices saying, where did he go? Where did he go? And that's when a police officer across the street came into my field of view. And I could see him, and I was like, relieved, that if he's in the open, then the threat must be gone. So that's when I felt better about it.

KELLY: You know, after police shot him, you were still working. You were still covering this. There are photos, I'm looking at online, where you are photographing the body on the ground. You were careful not to show his face. That's your training, too.

FOX: Yes, that is - don't want to expose readers to that, viewers to that. Also, don't want to give him any more credit than he deserves.

KELLY: Well, I'm so glad, of course, that you are - that you're safe and talking to us now. I mean, you could so easily have been shot, it sounds like. And I wonder, does that make you reevaluate anything?

FOX: I haven't had time to process that yet (laughter).

KELLY: Yeah.

FOX: I'm just happy to be kind of off this week with my family and to kind of just get through this and respond to friends and family, colleagues. You know, readers have also reached out to me, as well, to thank me for what I've done. So - and I appreciate the officers. Without those officers responding the way they did, I don't know what would have happened. And I give them a great deal of respect and blessings.

KELLY: Well, Tom Fox, I hope that you don't ever have to cover anything like this again and that the rest of your week is quiet.

FOX: Yes.

KELLY: He's a photographer for The Dallas Morning News. Thank you so much for talking to us.

FOX: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.