On the fringe of a tragedy: don’t forget them

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Memories are tricky – why is it so easy to forget some, but remember others? This week, I am remembering one that I wish I could forget. The lesson in all of this is to remember – remember to help yourself and ask for help if you need it. It doesn’t matter if you are media, cops, social workers, family, and friends.

As a reporter, I covered a murder/suicide involving two little kids. The news Sunday of this same horrible tragedy was tough to hear. In my story, I survived. I got a new job, moved away. I don’t remember much more about that time in my life. But what I do remember is no one ever asked me how I was feeling. No one offered counseling. It just didn’t happen in those days. It wasn’t the way. And I thought nothing of it.

This was just another day, another story. But every time something like it happens, I remember. I am fortunate to have a strong faith and believe those babies are in Heaven. That helps me get through. But it’s still very, very sad and I pray for them and all involved.

Don’t make the mistake we made all those years ago. Ask all those involved how they are doing. Get them some counseling. For those doing the work, take care of yourself. Sit in a room and cry and pray for the babies (or whoever it happens to be this day). The story is important – but so are you.

My story began on a Monday night. I had just sat down to watch Ally McBeal when the phone rang. It was my news editor, Gordon. One of the sports reporters had heard something on the scanner and called him. I was the education reporter and our police/cops reporter had just left for a new job so I was the one available that night. I had just worked 10 days straight – we were putting out the 20-year anniversary special edition about the Mount St. Helens eruption. The Friday before, I had worked from home, the only one with flexibility to take care of my six-year-old niece, home sick from school. I fed her Kraft Macaroni and Cheese –which she puked up on me about an hour later.

Yes, I remember all that. And I think I do because my niece was about the same age as the girl in the story. It was a boy and a girl. They were poisoned by their father/stepfather. He killed his stepdaughter, son, wife, himself – even the family pet – a bird. It was a religious thing; they were involved with some cult in Oregon. This was my first big, regional story. It happened at a small house in Rochester. Media (TV, radio, print) were all showing up on the scene from Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Portland. This started my competitive juices flowing. All I wanted was to beat them – to win.

I remember talking to the lead detective and he mentioned how his guys had little kids and this was really hard on them. I also remember looking in the window as police interviewed the nearest neighbor – you could tell she was really shaken up. All I thought was that these details were going to make a great story. My photographer showed up – and a little while later, our former cops reporter called him on his cell phone. He had heard about it on the AP wire and wanted to know what was going on. I remember thinking how mad he must be that he missed this big one. We stayed out there a while – longer than anyone. At one point, they brought out the body bags. They were so small.

The story ran the next day. I did a great job. I also got a call from some guy who claimed to have photos of the kids. I went out and met with him the next day. He gave me some photos – the looked like something from Sears or J.C. Penny. I was really excited about the scoop and we ran another story. But then found out he gave a family photo to my competitor. I was mad. That was my emotion. That’s all. I only had this one story.

I am well, I survived, but it wasn’t easy. Many media and law enforcement and social workers and many others have them every day. Now I pray they can stay well, too.

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