‘I see my camera as a shield’: As the bullets flew, a photographer’s instinct kicked in

It was a routine assignment for Tom Fox — wait outside the courthouse, photograph a defendant heading to jury selection. The Dallas Morning News needed a fresh photo.

Then he heard the gunshots.

What followed next was instinct, he told USA TODAY: He documented the news. He grabbed his camera and started snapping frames.

In the following hours, what occurred Monday morning in Dallas was widely reported: An Army veteran wearing a mask opened fire at a busy downtown courthouse . He was soon fatally shot by police.

Federal officers killed 22-year-old Brian Isaack Clyde of Fort Worth after he approached an entrance of the Earle Cabell Federal Building and began shooting. No bystanders or law enforcement officers were seriously injured during the gunfight.

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The attack began at about 8:40 a.m., but Fox said he had no sense of time.

“It seemed to last forever and you don’t know what’s going on,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “Maybe that was a good thing.”

Fox was no more than 100 yards away when he took the first images of the shooter, which showed him wearing a balaclava and a heavy vest. Magazines holding 30 rounds each could be seen on his belt.

“When I get into these situations, I see my camera as a shield,” he said. “I can deal with it when the camera is up, but when the camera is down the emotions kick in.”

Recognizing how exposed he was in the middle of the street, Fox ducked behind the first column he could find and tried to make himself as small as he could. He kept repeating to himself, “please don’t pass me, please don’t come into my line of vision.” 

As he crouched, bullets from the shooter’s gun ricocheted the granite wall above him. The photographer said he didn’t even notice the fragments flying until he found pieces of granite in his hair during an interview with a local Dallas TV station.

The man who is hiding behind the column is my friend and colleague @TomFoxPhoto. He had bullets fly by him this morning while on assignment at the courthouse. How he managed to get the photos he got is beyond me. This video wrecks me. I'm so happy he's okay. https://t.co/G6QbmnhUE2

Moments later, Fox heard police talking near him and decided the immediate threat had subsided. He ran across the street and began photographing as officers tended to a shirtless man lying on the ground in a parking lot outside the building. 

Fox said that throughout the entire ordeal he was thinking of his colleagues who were present when a sniper killed five Dallas police officers during a peaceful protest in July 2016. The event, which also left seven police officers and two civilians wounded, marked the deadliest attack on law enforcement since Sept. 11, 2001.

One of Fox’s first phone calls was to a colleague who survived the 2016 Dallas shooting. He sought advice about what to expect and how to emotionally handle the aftermath of a traumatic event.

“It’s nothing you could ever train for,” Fox said about being in the middle of an active shooter situation.

“I was either in the right place at the wrong time, or I’m in the wrong place at the right time. And I can’t figure out which. Guess I’ll figure that out later.”

Contributing: Joel Shannon, The Associated Press

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