CVP EXCLUSIVE: Not even the most experienced journalist could have been prepared for this morning’s live-televised, cold-blooded killings of a reporter and camera man in Virginia, veteran New York City-area TV newswoman Sara Lee Kessler of Englewood told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .“Usually the things you have to worry about when you do live TV shots is someone jumping in front or behind the camera trying to get their 15 seconds of fame and yelling, ‘Hi, mom!’ or waving,” Kessler said.
“You don’t think about somebody harming you.”
One of the most recognizable metropolitan-area TV figures, Kessler was in the newsroom at 24/7 News NY — where she is a news anchor, reporter and writer for 710 WOR radio and I Heart Radio — when the news broke.
“My phone didn’t stop — I was getting bulletins every 10 seconds,” the Emmy Award winner said.
“My first thought was that I hope this isn’t an act of terrorism,” she said. “How many people in that market were watching that live shot?
“Police all over the country began tightening security. The NYPD issued a media advisory and beefed up security for TV news crews,” Kessler said. “They didn’t know what this was in those early moments. And that was terrifying for everyone who does what we do.
“The fact that it turned out to be a guy with a vendetta doesn’t make it any less horrifying.”
Kessler — who was among the first journalists to interview John Lennon when he got his green card after years of fighting deportation — was anchoring the noon and 8 p.m. newscasts on WWOR Channel 9 when the company moved to Secaucus nearly 30 years ago.
With her then-infant daughter to care for, she moved to Englewood, where her family was embraced by a nurturing Orthodox community.
“I’ve loved it ever since,” she told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “It’s absolutely beautiful here.”
This morning’s incident “seems so far removed from something that we think can happen in America,” Kessler noted.
Kessler was on assignment recording a standup live shot in a Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip several years ago when “people suddenly came out shooting AK-47s into the air.”
“We got back into our car and high-tailed it out of there,” she said.
It was terrifying, Kessler said, “but no one pointed a gun or shot directly at us.”
“I’ve done hundreds of live television shots in my career in the New York City market and never once felt threatened,” she said. “But hearing something like what happened today makes you feel so vulnerable.
“It’s still difficult for me to wrap my head around this.”