Personal contact behind the newsWritten by Heather Miller | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I am a news reporter. That is how I make my living. As part of the job, or career, I sometimes cover violent crime. There is always someone jumping at the chance to criticize the coverage — or the way I do my job. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have been vilified for interviewing families of murder victims. The harsh judgment is not easy for me to take. Nevertheless, I suck it up and attribute the criticism to simply one of the downfalls of having a public job.
I covered a story last week that changed my thoughts and reaction. I attended the Toledo Area Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children’s Day of Remembrance Vigil. Last year, Congress set aside Sept. 25 as a day to remember murder victims nationwide. This year’s event, at Blessed Sacrament Church in Toledo, truly moved me. It drudged up emotions that, as a reporter, I don’t always have or are allowed to show, and it helped me reaffirm why I do what I do for a living.
I arrived at the church early to get a few interviews before the service began. I had a story angle in mind that would require me to tell the story of a specific family, as well as report basic information about the vigil. I have done stories with Parents of Murdered Children before and have always found it enjoyable working with them. That day there was something more to my experience. I did not walk more than 10 steps into the sanctuary before I recognized someone. The longer I stood in one place and looked around the room, the more people I realized I had seen or spoken with before. I was greeted enthusiastically over and over. Eventually, it hit me — I had interviewed at least a third of the crowd gathered to mourn the loss of their children.
For my story assignment, I spoke with a couple I had talked with in the past, Wendy and Les Robinson. They lost their son, Donnie, on Aug. 25, 2005, when he was shot and killed while breaking up a fight on Cone Street in Toledo. When the service began a short time later, around 7 p.m., I became choked up thinking of those in attendance, especially those who had shared their stories with me. Tammy Cappellety’s mother held my hand and cried the afternoon after her daughter was shot inside a car in North Toledo. She repeated to me over and over, “Parents should go first.”
Jason Brauer sat with me at his son’s grave and told me all about A.J.’s favorite toys just hours after the man who beat him to death was sentenced to prison.
And when I interviewed Les Robinson a year after his son’s death, he was full of anger, unsatisfied with the 12 short years Donnie’s killer was judged to spend in prison.
All of these people reminded me of why I interview victims’ families after harsh crimes. My work helps to give an identity to those who can no longer speak for themselves.
You may not like what I do. You may disagree with how I do my job. But I am not apologetic about interviewing families of violent crime victims. The victims are not the only ones who suffer, and people need to know that.
Heather Miller is a reporter at FOX Toledo News.