A crazy, horrible week

Ernesto Vergne looks at a cross honoring his friend Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado and the other victims at a memorial to those killed in the Pulse nightclub mass shooting a few blocks from the club Image copyright AP

Bear with me if I don't sound too fluid. Like many of my colleagues - and many of our viewers - I'm still trying to make sense of a crazy, horrible, incomprehensible week dominated by gun violence and hatred. A week that made everything go quiet.

I spent the first three days of it in Orlando - the phone call coming late Sunday night when we realised that we were looking at the United States' worst ever mass shooting of modern times. I have covered many shootings - Virginia Tech College (the second biggest until this moment), the racially motivated shootings inside a Charleston church almost exactly a year ago, the Paris attacks, in both January and November, as the city came under a siege of hatred. And it never gets any easier. It starts with a clench in the pit of your stomach and a feeling of dread. And then it just spreads.

The Sandy Hook tragedy became the only time in my professional life I have been unable to finish a sentence live on air. I excused myself and fled to the bathroom sobbing. It was deeply unprofessional. I won't even try and make excuses.

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But I was overwhelmed. And the older I get, the more I realise that experience means you bring more of yourself to this job, not less.

At the hospital in Orlando, I squeezed into a room chock-full of global press waiting to hear from the survivor, Angel Colon, who'd played dead, hiding behind his shot friend, to escape alive. And I asked the surgeons how many victims of gun violence they'd each treated in their lifetimes. A lengthy pause in the room as they counted - shocked, to be doing so. Then the answer came back. Around 10,000. Each.

No further questions.

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Image caption Angel Colon (seated, right) a victim of the Pulse nightclub shooting, speaks to the press about his experience

Over the course of those days, I spoke to people who had lost numerous friends - murdered - in the Pulse night club. It's important to understand, perhaps, the role a gay club plays within an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) crowd where it can be much harder to show affection openly on the street, or where families may not have understood your sexuality. The club becomes a community. Which perhaps explains why those I met talked of losing five, 10, even 20 friends over the course of that appalling night. We visited an LGBT support centre which had been inundated with food and water for families. The director, Terry DeCarlo, told me their counsellors often help "self-haters - battling their inner demons".

He thought he understood what may have been going on inside the murderer's mind - trying to exorcise his own fears and repression with the worst single homophobic act the US has ever witnessed. That night for Newsnight, by contrast, I found a voice of hope and moral courage in the form of Irshad Manji - a gay Muslim woman - unconflicted by her religion and her sexuality who told me any religion that wasn't about love couldn't really be a religion at all.

As I flew back, I felt myself trying to compartmentalise what I'd witnessed. Yes, homophobia is everywhere, yes, Islamist terrorism is now part of our daily lives - but gun crime, I thought - well, that's an American thing. Thank God for rational-minded old Britain.

And that thought, of course, lasted less than 24 hours when we learnt of the death of Jo Cox. Ironically, I heard the news on air through an earpiece, just as I was interviewing the former governor of Arizona about - you guessed it - gun control.

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I will not claim to know Jo Cox well, but I enjoyed interviewing her. I loved her passion and her compassion. I know we have lost a jewel. And like so many I felt thumped in the solar plexus by the news of her death. I saw a lot of journalists in tears yesterday - more than I can remember at any other time. I don't pretend my profession has any monopoly on grief - but it indicated to me that something quite profound had happened that stopped hardened hacks in their tracks.

I was reminded for one moment of the day David Kelly died - very different deaths, of course, in wildly different circumstances - but they were both moments that cut through the febrile atmosphere of endless thumping white noise, and made everything go still. Like a gavel coming down hard in a judge's court. The profound silence that comes when people stop speaking. All at the same time. And I welcome that.

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We do not know whether it was mental illness, misogyny or some putrid set of beliefs that killed Jo. Just as we do not know whether it was homophobia, radicalisation, or self-loathing that killed 49 people in an Orlando club. My job is to ask questions, to explain, to provide answers - to elucidate. I hate it when I can't do that. But this week has been a blunt reminder some moments defy any neat response. If this were Thought for the Day, this would be the moment I segue clunkily into the religious reference. But it's not, so I just admit I don't really understand any of it. "Show your working," as they say in the maths test. Well this is me. And I'm stuck, trying to figure any of it out.

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