by Robert Waters
March 27, 1999 wasn't a big day for national
news. ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN lead with stories about the continued bombing of
Kosovo. After the lead story, the networks floundered to find seconds. They
settled on reports about a scheduled baseball game between the Cuban National
team and the Baltimore Orioles. Later, a CBS reporter dissected global weather
patterns. Finally, the same network ended its newscast with a feature about a
new law that would require reflectors on the bottom of truck trailers.
Not exactly the most compelling stuff.
But a story that would have riveted he attention of viewers was unfolding even
as the evening news shows hit the air.
That afternoon, a twenty-seven-year-old Phoenix police officer named Marc
Atkinson was tailing a white Lincoln Continental that he suspected had been
stolen. It wasn't a high-speed pursuit--Atkinson was waiting for backup units to
arrive before pulling the car over. Three very nervous Hispanic males were in
the car as it tooled down West Thomas Road.
The Continental turned left on 31st Avenue, and Atkinson momentarily lost sight
of it. As he rounded the corner, he saw that the car was stopped on the side of
the road. Two men stood beside it with guns pointed at him. In an instant,
Atkinson was cut down with a fusillade of gunfire. His last words to the
dispatcher showed his professionalism. "Bail out!" he shouted.
The story could have ended with the murder of Atkinson.
But it didn't.
Rory Vertigan, an apartment manager and part-time security guard, had been
driving behind the officer. As he turned the corner, he saw the ambush taking
place. He watched in horror as Atkinson's police cruiser careened across the
street and plowed into a street lamp. Vertigan braked to halt fifty feet behind
He saw the assailants jump back into their car. But instead of trying to flee,
they turned their attentions to Vertigan. When two of the suspects aimed their
guns at him and opened fire, he grabbed his Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol.
The suspects fired several more rounds at Vertigan, then backed their car into
his Kia. Amid breaking glass and crashing metal, he leaned out the window and
began shooting at the gunmen, using his left hand. In all, Vertigan fired
Later, Vertigan released a statement. "When I confronted the individuals in
the white vehicle," he said, "they turned their guns on me. I was
given no choice but to defend myself."
As the smoke cleared, the three men leaped out of their car and began to run.
One of the gunmen, seriously wounded, didn't make it far. Vertigan, out of
bullets now, tackled the suspect and held him for police.
The other gunmen attempted to hide in nearby businesses but were captured later
The Phoenix Police Department credited Vertigan with not only capturing one of
the murderers, but of disabling the stolen car so they couldn't flee across the
The question must be asked: why didn't this story make the national news? It was
heavily covered in the Southwest, with television stations breaking into regular
programming and interviewing everyone involved. The story was later picked up by
both national wire services and newspapers across the country.
Even the search for the suspects was the stuff police drama is made of. One thug
entered Bristow Optical holding a gun. The company's secretary dove under a desk
and called 911. As officers converged on the building and other employees fled,
the secretary kept police informed as to the suspect's whereabouts. With
television crews recording every move, she was escorted from the building by
police. Then officers entered the business and captured the suspect as he hid in
a rest room.
Most Americans have grown up watching television. Much of our reality is shaped
by the pictures we see.
Network executives learned long ago to make use of this phenomenon to promote
their own political agenda. One of the ways they influence public opinion is
through the omission of stories that would enhance the opposing viewpoint.
Because the national media refuses to carry stories about armed citizens who
defend themselves and others, Americans don't get an accurate portrayal of the
debate about guns.
It's almost like the media moguls have a secret they don't want us to know.
An exciting, heart-wrenching story such as this, breaking even as the evening
news shows went on the air, would seem a natural.
But several things worked against it. First, Rory Vertigan was a member of the
National Rifle Association and a strong advocate for gun rights. Second, a
firearm was used to neutralize a murderous gang and lead to the capture of its
members, something that seems to be taboo for the national press. Finally, a
story such as this would have shown the world why many Americans choose to carry
guns, and why our founding Fathers placed that right in the Constitution.
For whatever reason, the networks chose to spike the story.
And they wonder why they continue to lose viewers.
Mr. Waters is the author of The
Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims Who Defended Themselves with a