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A budding journalist was killed while covering a shooting. His professor remembers him


Dylan Lyons was in his first year as a reporter at Spectrum News 13 in Orlando, liked and admired by his friends and colleagues. On Wednesday, he went out to cover a shooting that had happened earlier that day. He was sitting in a car at the scene with his co-worker photojournalist Jesse Walden when witnesses said a man walked up and shot them both. Dylan Lyons died. Police said the gunman later shot and killed a 9-year-old girl. The woman hit earlier in the day also did not survive. Rick Brunson knew and taught Dylan Lyons at the University of Central Florida's Journalism School and joins us now. Mr. Brunson, thanks so much for making time to speak with us.

RICK BRUNSON: Thank you, Scott. It's good to be with you.

SIMON: Tell us about this young man you knew, Dylan Lyons.

BRUNSON: Dylan was a bright light. He had a theater and dramatic arts background in high school. And so he had a habit of bouncing into a room whether it was a classroom or whether it was my office during office hours. And he lit that room up. He just had an ebullient smile. He was a storyteller. He was telling stories even when he wasn't telling stories. That's just who he was.

SIMON: I wonder if there is a story, a moment, something that particularly occurs to you today when you think of Dylan Lyons.

BRUNSON: I just have little reels in my head of him when he was taking our basic videography class. I would see him out and about on our campus, you know, shooting a story. And he would have other students in the class with him. He was, even then, not just a student, but a mentor and a coach to other students. He wanted to run fast, and he wanted to bring other people with him.

SIMON: This must be difficult to talk about with your students.

BRUNSON: Yeah. They've been coming in here since Wednesday night, their eyes ringed with tears because - none of them were here when Dylan was here because he graduated in spring 2019. But they're all studying to do exactly what Dylan did professionally, so they feel a kinship within. I love them to pieces for the way they have conducted themselves honorably in sharing Dylan's story this week.

SIMON: It will forever be one of the most significant moments in their lives, won't it?

BRUNSON: It will. They'll never forget this because of what happened to Dylan, you know, the fear of, could this happen to me? I know they're all - this is all living in their heads. And those are the things, in the days ahead, we're going to have to process with them. And I think, to be frank, Scott, safety for journalists has to become paramount. You have to think these kids, this generation, are kids who grew up in schools with frequent active shooter drills. I mean, living with gun violence is something that occupies space in their head constantly. So as an industry, as a profession, we have to have more conversation and have more policy changes that address making these students feel safe.

SIMON: I don't want to lose sight of the fact that two other people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in that neighborhood that day, and two others, including the photojournalist Jesse Walden, are wounded. How do we make sense or refuse to make sense of that?

BRUNSON: Well, I think what you just said, Scott. We have to refuse to make sense of it. It's just darkness, man. It's just - like, a darkness has covered our land and our country with so much violence. You know, you've heard this a lot. We have more mass shootings now than we have days in the calendar in 2023. It's crazy. It's senseless. But what I fear is that it has become so commonplace that we all just become inured to it, that it's so commonplace that we learn to live with this. And there should be something with all of us that rages and say, no, we do not have to live with this as a country, as a culture. It's not right. This is not the America that we have to be.

SIMON: Rick Brunson is a senior instructor of journalism at the University of Central Florida and was one of the teachers of Dylan Lyons, who died this week at the age 24 on duty for News 13 in Orlando. Thank you so much, Rick.

BRUNSON: Thank you for shedding a light on Dylan's life and for having me with you today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLEEPING AT LAST SONG, "HEARING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.