CLEVELAND - In 24 years of working in television news, I have never had a week like the one that started around 6:30 p.m. May 6, 2013 in Cleveland.
While waiting for a story to start in Bay Village, my photographer Tom Livingston rolled down the window of his live truck. “I’m being pulled, you’re staying,” he told me. The assignment desk had just called to say some woman called 911 claiming to be Amanda Berry, the Cleveland woman who disappeared 10 years earlier on the eve of her 17th birthday.
So, out of right field was this news that Livingston immediately followed without missing a beat, saying “so I’ll be right back.”
The news as well didn’t strike me as being real either. We had covered so many false hopes over the years in the search for Amanda and Gina DeJesus, who vanished a year later only a short walk away from where Amanda was last seen.
We had anxiously waited along with both families on two different occasions when police acting on credible tips dug up an empty lot and the garage of a home looking for Amanda and Gina’s bodies respectively.
So this latest news had to be just someone making a sick crank call to police.
Just a few minutes after Livingston left with the live truck, that perception would change when the assignment desk called my cellphone and, in an urgent voice, said you have to go -- it looks like Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus have both been found and they’re both alive!
As I raced to Seymour Avenue on Cleveland’s west side my stomach began to turn in a way I had rarely felt. So many years of seeing the pain and anguish in these families faces as they gathered each April to mark the respective anniversaries of the girls’ disappearances -- could it really be ending?
As I pulled up to Seymour Avenue, I ditched the car and made my way through the growing crowd. Livingston was already setting up the truck to establish a live shot and I began scanning the crowd looking for familiar faces from either family to get confirmation.
By the time, our live TV signal was established and we joined our breaking news coverage live from the scene. But before they came to me, I had overheard a man telling his story of the rescue -- that man was Charles Ramsey.
As I waited for them to come to me on the air, I began interviewing Charles on tape because I didn’t want to lose him in the crowd and he told me of the amazing "s***" that had just happened.
When they came to me live a minute or two later, Charles was still within arm grabbing distance, so I immediately brought him in and asked him to tell the story that began with him hearing screaming.
The rest is viral video history.
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As the interview was going on, what was going through my mind was the fact that Charles had just dropped the “s” bomb prior to us going live so my fear was him dropping another on live TV.
They were telling me in my ear to wrap it up and toss it back when Charles delivered what would be the most famous line: “I knew something was wrong when a pretty little white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Dead giveaway, dead giveaway.”
In my mind I’m thinking, OK, where are you going with this so I thanked him and tossed it back, thinking it was a really good interview but I’ve interviewed some colorful people before. I had no idea what was about to follow.
Within an hour, the interview was being played and replayed across the country and, newsnet5.com was exploding with hits as the video was quickly becoming viral.
By the time I got back to the station around 12:30 a.m., the numbers were off the charts and several of my co-workers were telling me, "you watch, this is going to get autotuned," something I had never heard of before. They explained it’s when an interview gets so big it’s set to music and, if it’s really big, the Gregory brothers will take it on.
Within 24 hours, they did.
(Mobile users watch here: http://5.wews.com/kXa4p)
With the song and with the attention of Charles Ramsey began the process of moving from news figure to pop icon. With the interview popping up on shows like TMZ.
(Mobile users watch here: http://5.wews.com/kXa6U)
Around the same time, Jimmy Kimmel was introducing an even wider audience to Ramsey.
(Mobile users watch here: http://5.wews.com/kXaa8)
And then came the Taiwanese cartoon recreation of the interview.
(Mobile users watch here: http://5.wews.com/kXadz)
I’ve had some amazing interviews over my career -- amazing in the sense that the individuals were amazing because of who they were: presidents, celebrities, newsmakers.
Ramsey's interview ended up surpassing them all in terms of global reach -- not because of who Charles Ramsey was but what he did. And the timing of his coming forward so early in a process where people were starving for insight information into this unimaginable tale.
The global news vacuum in the early stages of this story transformed him in a matter 2-3 hours from a guy eating McDonalds to an international figure.
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