Keeler- Reporting from Behind Police Lines, One Year Later
by Bill Keeler
It was a typical Wednesday morning for me. I'd completed the morning radio show and made my way to the Utica Boilermaker headquarters for a meeting scheduled with Executive Director Tim Reed.
We talked about the upcoming Boilermaker, the post race party and as usual, we would stray off topic. Would today be the day the Vatican would select the next Pope? We figured that would be the day's big story. We had no idea.
Minutes into the meeting. I received a text message that claimed Mohawk and Ilion school districts were on lockdown. Shortly thereafter, the words 'shots fired' grabbed my attention. I left the meeting early and headed towards the Valley. Along the way, alerts started coming in quickly with reports of shots fired in Mohawk...an explosion...a house fire...shots fired in either Herkimer or Ilion...ambulances at the scene; I quickly realized this story seemed different.
I'm the morning show host at WIBX so I never do news; in fact, the radio portion of my work day was already in the books. Little did I know, I was about to cross into what would seem like a war zone and I would spend some eight straight hours behind police lines broadcasting to the people of the Mohawk Valley.
I was clearly not prepared. There were no plans for a live broadcast and I was armed only with an iPhone which was barely charged. Luckily, I have a dc phone charger for my car and that would be the only thing that would keep me on the air. The bad news is that the dead battery would mean that I would be completely tethered to my vehicle. The phone would only work if it was plugged into the lighter jack and for better or worse, it would serve as my radio transmitter for eight horrifying hours.
I started at Kurt Meyers' home on Washington Street in Mohawk, which had already burned out following a reported explosion. John's Barbershop on Main Street was taped-off by police where the first fatal shooting occurred earlier in the day. Meanwhile, word was beginning to circulate that the gunman, believed to be Meyers, had made his way to Herkimer where reports of another fatal shooting at the car wash were beginning to surface.
Before I could exit the village, sirens began to blare on Columbia Street as a convoy of no fewer than a dozen State Police SUVs came off Vickerman Hill and sped by on their way to Herkimer. I'd never seen anything like this before. It didn't look like the town I grew up in.
Minutes later, I entered Herkimer only to find an even more surreal scene that looked like something out of an urban warfare video game. Helicopters were flying over head, military armored vehicles were speeding through the streets and armed snipers were making their way on top of the old buildings on North Main Street.
That's when my phone started to ring.
CBS, FOX News, and even the BBC wanted live updates from the scene. I tried to accommodate but my main focus was getting on the air at WIBX.
I quickly realized that this was one of those important 'radio' moments, like the old ones, that prompted broadcasters to go live during a tragedy to keep the public informed. That's what actually attracted me to the radio business in the first place, and now I was right in the middle of one of those tragic moments right here in our own back yard.
I cheated a bit and instead of waiting at the media holding area, I know the village well so I made my way down side streets to get a better perspective and what I saw was unbelievable. I drove right in upon what looked like a military sniper team on foot, slowly following an armored vehicle, shielding themselves behind it as it approached a home in a residential setting - a place where authorities thought Myers might have been hiding out. That's when I heard several loud gun shots coming from the area behind us, near the old General Herkimer Restaurant on Main Street. Police had Meyers surrounded and shots had been fired.
I had no idea at the time that so many people in Herkimer were locked down in their homes and businesses and our reports from the scene served as their only lifeline to the outside world.
I didn't do anything special. I just made my way around the village and reported what I
Sirens began to blare on Columbia Street as a convoy of no fewer than a dozen State Police SUVs came off Vickerman Hill and sped by on their way to Herkimer. I'd never seen anything like this before.
saw. The whole tragedy was completely unfolding in front of my eyes, so I never gave it a second thought. This is what we're supposed to do and what a radio station like WIBX is ultimately here for. We've always talked about the importance of serving the community and now, as fate would have it, we were right in the middle of the best example ever of serving the community.
I arrived home at 7:30 p.m. and walked through the door and hugged my wife. It was the first time I was able to take a deep breath and think about what had happened. I choked up a bit and remembered that same type of embrace we gave each other following my marathon broadcast on September 11th, when the planes struck the Twin Towers.
That day was horrific; but, this was our tragedy.
It was hard to believe that the craziness of the world had found it's way to the Mohawk Valley.
Innocent people had died and an entire community had been turned upside down.
Things like this aren't supposed to happen here; but, it did and from here on out, life will never be the same.
The suspected shooter, Kurt Meyers was killed in a shoot out the next morning when police stormed the former General Herkimer Hotel. Police K-9 Ape was also shot and killed, a gunshot wound fired from Meyers' weapon. Still, investigators have no evidence as to what motivated Meyers to engage in the shooting spree.