"Was I in the right place at the wrong time, or was I in the wrong place at the right time?" the photojournalist, Tom Fox of The Dallas Morning News, said after a man opened fire at a federal courthouse.
It wasn't until he took the photograph Monday morning (local time) that Tom Fox, a longtime photojournalist, realised what he was looking at: A man wearing tactical gear and carrying a military-style rifle was standing outside a federal courthouse in Dallas, looking his way.
Moments earlier, Fox, who works for The Dallas Morning News, had heard what he thought was a backfiring car and later determined to be rounds fired. Then, around 8:37am, he photographed a security guard and a man in a suit as they ran past him.
Fox was still piecing together what was happening when he looked through the 70-200mm lens of his camera and photographed the man with a rifle, capturing a jarring, detailed close-up of a gunman in the middle of an attack. The image raced across social media, with many praising the photographer for his quick reaction.
"I'm seeing this guy reaching for something and then he started to get up and look my way and I was like, 'OK, I've been spotted, so get up and run,'" Fox said in an interview, a day after describing his ordeal to a columnist at his newspaper.
The gunman was eventually shot dead by the authorities, and no one else was seriously injured. Federal officials, who identified the assailant as a 22-year-old Army veteran, said they were still trying to determine a motive for the attack, according to The Associated Press.
Having just returned from a vacation, Fox, 51, had hoped for a much less eventful morning. He was sent to the Earle Cabell Federal Building to get an updated photograph of a defendant in a charter school fraud case who was expected to arrive in court about 9am.
Fox had spent the earlier part of the morning waiting for his subject, engaging in brief exchanges with a courthouse security guard and watching a homeless man dance on a street pole.
Then he heard the shots.
After spotting the gunman, Fox started running from the courthouse entrance, looking for cover. There were no cars — street parking is prohibited outside the courthouse — so he rushed behind one of the columns lining the building, making himself as small as possible.
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"I thought if he saw me, he'd shoot me. I was that close," Fox said. "It's 2 feet between the sidewalk and where I'm standing."
He heard more rounds being fired and glass shattering. The gunman, he later learned, had turned around and fired back into the building.
Fox, unsure what was happening, kept still next to the column, facing the parking lot across the street and watching for the gunman. Soon, something else entered his field of vision: several law enforcement officers.
Fox told them the gunman had not passed him and, figuring it was safe to move, he followed the officers to the parking lot across the street. There, he joined two civilians hiding between cars.
Once it was clear that the officers had taken the suspect down, Fox got up to take photos and then contact his editor. The editor asked for a preliminary photograph, so Fox took one with his iPhone, taking care to obscure the gunman's face.
Eventually, he and other witnesses were led to a nearby FBI command post, where they were interviewed about what they had seen. Fox sat on the same wall that a colleague had used as cover while photographing a mass shooting that unfolded at nearby El Centro College nearly three years ago.
Afterward, Fox was allowed to retrieve his car and leave. He returned to his office, where he delivered a disk containing photographs from the scene, then got to work editing a firsthand video he had taken amid the chaos.
"Everybody just jumped right in," he said.
Fox has worked for The Dallas Morning News for nearly three decades, starting with stints in college, but he said he had never experienced a shooting so close. According to The Associated Press, the gunman was carrying more than 150 rounds of ammunition.
Fox said he was taking a day off to follow up with journalists who had requested interviews and to decompress. But he said there remains a lot to process.
"I woke up this morning and I was thinking, was I in the right place at the wrong time, or was I in the wrong place at the right time?" he said.
Written by: Niraj Chokshi
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES