There were hundreds of people outside Heath Ledger's building when we arrived on the scene around 5:30 p.m. this afternoon — roughly two hours after the actor was found dead and naked on the floor of his bedroom.
A police officer stood guard in front of the building entrance, but only a few feet separated him from dozens of cameras, and beyond the pack of press, gawkers hovered and strained for a clear view. More of the curious stood across the street, next to reporters doing live hits for the local news.
As I got ready for one of my first live shots, a local resident walked up and asked what was going on. She was a well-dressed woman in her 50s. "Heath Ledger died in that building," I told her matter-of-factly, forgetting she might not have already known. She didn't, and looked absolutely stunned, like I'd slapped her. She stood for another few seconds, digesting the awful words, then turned and walked across the street.
• Voice your thoughts on Heath Ledger's death
• Click here to read FNC Producer Kathleen Foster's blog, about how one New York City borough is coping with the loss of the beloved actor
Soon after, the NYPD moved the crowd back several more feet, setting up metal barricades and extra police tape, creating a wide lane in front of the upscale loft building and pens for the press and public on both sides of the block. A medical examiner's office van pulled up out front, coroners went inside, and at 6:31 p.m., three hours and four minutes after the 911 call was placed, Heath Ledger's body was wheeled out, illuminated by countless camera flashes.
I stood right next to the coroner's van, three feet from the open back doors as the stretcher wheeled past and inside the vehicle. The M.E. guys and officers standing guard thanked each other, the van drove off, and most of the crowd quickly dispersed.
Later I looked into the eyes of a young woman walking by. It could've been the cold, but it looked like she'd been crying.
Rick Leventhal is a New York based reporter for FOX News Channel.