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Art Teele’s tragic suicide in the Miami Herald lobby

A veteran journalist approached our picture desk, wide-eyed and grim-faced.

“Art Teele is in the lobby and he’s holding a gun to his head!” she blurted out, having just come through our lobby.

It was around 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27, 2005.

Within seconds, photo editors David Walters and Suzy Mast notified two staff photographers, one who was in the building and another nearby, about what was going on.

Resolved to see things for myself, I grabbed my tiny Canon pocket camera from my briefcase, just in case, and ran for the elevator — fortunately, it had not yet been shut down.

Police officers had already established a crime-scene perimeter, and there was a small knot of Herald executives and editors pressed against the yellow tape stretching from the escalators to the front lobby door.

I nudged my way to the front of the group, absorbing the horror of seeing the former city and county commissioner’s nearly lifeless body sprawled across the lobby’s terrazzo floor, a dark pool of blood oozing from his head. His large trademark tortoise-shell eyeglasses lay next to his outstretched hand. Two Miami police officers were kneeling over him, apparently knowing there was little they could do.

I slowly pulled the camera out of my front pocket, and, hands shaking slightly, made only four or five frames of the scene. It wasn’t but a few minutes later that an ambulance arrived. Teele died at the hospital two hours later.

At the end of the day, after vigorous discussion about whether to run a “dead body” image of a prominent local leader on the front page, the Herald’s managing editor at the time decided to go with one of my shots (it was less gruesome than the staff photographers’ pictures).

The tragic suicide of the deeply-troubled former commissioner — in our own lobby! — shocked even the most hardened news editors, reporters and photographers.

Shortly after, a metal detector and security doors and glass were installed at the building’s front entrance. That changed forever the welcoming character of our lobby, something that employees and visitors alike had enjoyed since our building at One Herald Plaza opened in 1963.

Art Teele lost his life. We, the Herald’s employees who worked in that building, lost a certain innocence.