Like most in East Texas, a loud boom followed by the windows rattling and my house shaking startled me that February morning in 2003.
Not what I would have ever thought, but a quick click of the television remote to CNN confirmed the information from the phone call. I knew the next few days would be filled with accounts of what had happened, and questions of how.
As I left my house I could see a brown swath of smoke stretching across the beautiful blue horizon.
Arriving at the Tyler Morning Telegraph a short time later, I found editor Richard Loomis already manning the phone trying to get in as many reporters and photographers into the office.
Loomis looked up and said, “Glad you're here. Herb (Nygren), a Tyler Paper photographer, should be here in a minute and you two will be the first team out. I need you to go to Cherokee County.”
Loomis explained phone calls had been pouring in detailing a large debris field stretching south and east from a line in Smith County to Toledo Bend area.
With our marching orders, Nygren and I headed south to Cherokee County where we first met up with DPS trooper Butch Fulton who was standing watch over a piece of debris, just outside of Jack- sonville.
Fulton explained that NASA had issued statements through local law enforcement that debris could be radioactive or contaminated with some other type of substance that could be harmful.
Campbell said his agency had called in every available deputy, reserve and dispatcher to handle the onslaught of calls.
Back at Campbell's office a map on the wall in the briefing room quickly became covered in red pins indicating each place where debris had been found.
The same scenario was being played out all across East Texas at police stations and sheriff offices.
Armed with scores of photographs and a story, Nygren and I headed back to the newspaper where we joined an army of co-workers to begin putting it all together.
Though the first day was over, it was only one of many spent in the field working the story, and the next week had me in Hemphill, where NASA had set up a command center.
The weather was rainy and cold and driving through the Sabine National Forest following search crews and attending press conferences.
On one such drive through an area myself and a former photographer met up with three men who came out of the woods exclaiming they had found a large portion of the space shuttle.
After a short hike through dense woods, we came upon a large crater and what was later identified by NASA as the nose cone of the shuttle.
The photo the next day on the front page of the Tyler Morning Telegraph was the first published photo of the nose cone, which was quickly barricaded off by NASA.
Day after day we followed search teams scouring the deep woods of the Sabine National Forest and watched dive teams work to recover wreckage from the Toledo Bend Reservoir.
After more than a week and dozens of stories, life at the newspaper began to drift back into normalcy, but for those of us working the many different angles of the Columbia disaster, we knew we would never forget the sights and sounds of the days spent looking for an answer.