Jesse Walden speaks of healing one year after shooting

NMSU grad was shot on reporting assignment


The story stated has been corrected to state that Jesse Walden was hired as a photojournalist by Spectrum News 13 rather than as a reporter.

A full year has passed since Florida photojournalist and New Mexico State University alumnus Jesse Walden was critically injured while covering a shooting in the field. However, the passion he has for his work has not waned a bit.

Walden, 30, and his Spectrum News 13 colleague Dylan Lyons were preparing to report from the cleared scene of a shooting on Feb. 22, 2023, in Orlando when the alleged shooter returned and fired his handgun. Lyons was killed on scene and Walden was seriously injured.

The shootings left three people dead and two injured that day.

“This year’s been such a, you know, otherworldly experience for me. I’m looking forward to continuing to work and get back into my life and hopefully eventually feeling lost in the normalcy again,” Walden said during a visit to Las Cruces this week.

Walden visited his alma mater and was also recognized by Mayor Eric Enriquez during a city council meeting on Feb. 20, when Enriquez said of Walden: “His journey to healing became an integral part of his narrative, enabling him to connect with people on a profound level and share stories of survival and resilience.”

In an interview, Walden compared getting lost in a job you love to getting lost in a good movie or spending time with friends. Walden emphasized the beauty of normalcy and the slowly widening time between realizing you were not thinking about a traumatic event.

“It’s nice that’s how healing works ... I’m definitely going through that and wanting to continue moving in that direction. That’s what I see for myself for the future. And I’m still a firm believer that what we’re doing makes a huge, positive impact on the world,” he said.

However, Walden’s path to journalism was not quite linear.

Walden explained that his father was in the military and the family moved around every few years. He was about 17 when his father was stationed at White Sands Missile Range and the family moved to Las Cruces.

Walden attended the former Oñate High School (now Organ Mountain High) and went on to study digital filmmaking at NMSU. While he never specifically studied journalism, he did work as an editor for News 22.

“I kind of just learned the ins and outs and how similar journalism was to documentary filmmaking, which is what I was studying at CMI (NMSU’s Creative Media Institute),” Walden said. “They just had different people from different news organizations come and meet us and I kind of clicked with some reporters from KOB who come down from Albuquerque.”

Walden said he had a job offer from KOB before he graduated from NMSU. He started working in Albuquerque in 2016 where he became an editor and trained as a photographer.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Walden moved to Salt Lake City, Utah to work at the FOX affiliate. Two years later, he moved again. This time to Orlando, where he said his cost of living is lower and the news market is larger.

“Florida was the nice combination of everything that I enjoyed about news,” Walden said. “It was politically charged, it was exciting, there was crazy things happening and … the height of entertainment is out there.”

He explained that he was a general assignment photojournalist when he first joined Spectrum News 13, but his coverage area has shifted since the shooting. He now describes the stories he covers as “traffic and attractions” with a focus on “character-driven storytelling” – similar to mini-documentaries, he said.

Stories are much more personal, Walden said. And because of this objective and the fact that Spectrum News 13 does not heavily emphasize crime coverage, it was a rare situation that Walden found himself covering a shooting last year.

“It really was just sort of crazy bad luck for us to even be on that story,” Walden said. “On an average … workweek, I would say we were only covering crime like one or two days a week.”

Despite experiencing such a traumatic event and still going through the physical and mental process of healing, Walden said his perspective on amplifying voices through journalism has not changed at all.

“It still feels just as vital as it’s always felt and I feel like it almost invigorates, in a lot of ways,” he said.

He added that people often ask him about his work and comment on how “depressing” journalism must be because you’re “seeing all these horrible things all the time.”

“There’s so much more good in the world, so much more people volunteering and using their time for amazing causes and making the world a (more fun) and better place that I would have no idea if I wasn’t doing this job,” Walden said. “I think it’s tremendously important for us to continue to showcase … a real image of what the world is and I think, in a lot of ways, the world is a lot more positive and welcoming than people assume it is.”

The openness and large capacity for empathy people have can be a counter to all the negativity the news industry often highlights and is something Walden said he had seen, but never experienced personally until he was injured.

“I was floored by how much people cared, how much compassion and how many friends and coworkers and strangers would pour in and message me and visit and talk to me and call me. So much that really just kept reaffirming. I was like, ‘man … what a wonderful world this is,’” he said. “We're pulled by our emotions and that's such an important part of why storytelling matters.”

Both Walden and Lyons will be honored with citations of courage at the Radio Television Digital News Association’s 2024 First Amendment Awards in Washington D.C. on March 9.

Jesse Walden, Dylan Lyons, Spectrum News 13