WESTERHOLD: We take no pleasure in presenting tragedy

One attempted murder; one murder; one attempted suicide; two suicides. Four families suffering the tragedies of their lives.
Matt Westerhold
May 24, 2010

 

One attempted murder; one murder; one attempted suicide; two suicides.

Four families suffering the tragedies of their lives.

"I am the 94-year-old grandmother of Daniel R. Summers," Mrs. Geneva Sebolt told me when I returned her call last week.

She spoke eloquently and with complete authority.

"What you have written on the front page of the paper -- the gory details -- haunt me to this minute.

"My family is thoroughly hurt. All those things in the write-up. The details. It was gory. Think of the boy's mother. She was one of the last ones to be notified."

She drove home her thorough disgust with the Register's coverage of the attempted murder/suicide that occurred Monday morning on U.S. 250 near Ohio 2. Daniel R. Summers killed himself in a parking lot after shooting at his girlfriend and ramming her vehicle.

There was so much power in Mrs. Sebolt's voice and in the cadence of her speech. I understood the pain the Register had created for her family by reporting the event. She wanted me to know.

I hated my job.

I wished she was my grandmother.

"What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Westerhold?"

"I'm sorry for your loss," I replied.

I had no other words.

A day prior to that conversation, a Register reporter obtained a surveillance video from the Erie County Jail that showed inmate Timothy J. Thayer walking up a staircase inside the jail and jumping head-first onto the concrete floor below.

I OK'd posting the video at sanduskyregister.com with a warning about its graphic content. It clearly showed what had happened, and explained the apparent suicide attempt better than 10,000 words ever could.

If there had been any doubt or confusion about the circumstances of Thayer's attempted suicide, the video cleared those up.

On Friday, Larry Barnett Sr. stopped by the Register and met with me about a story that appeared in that day's paper about the July 27 murder-suicide at Lions Park.

Police say his son, Larry Barnett Jr., shot his girlfriend Rachelle Baskey in the head and then turned the weapon on himself. Both died.

Similar to Mrs. Sebolt, Mr. Barnett Sr. spoke with power and authority in his voice, and he also took exception with the Register's coverage of the Lions Park tragedy.

Mr. Barnett, however, appeared to be more involved with his struggle to understand what had happened to his son. I listened and explained why the Register does what it does; why we report what we determine to be news and the ways we go about it.

I sat across from him as we spoke and felt connected. A father-to-father bond and, on some level, I understood everything he was saying and some of what he was feeling.

I struggled to keep my composure and in my head my constant prayer of life repeated itself: Please God keep my family safe.

And that was augmented with thoughts about the Barnett family, and all the other families that were suffering these tragedies: Please God, help them understand.

I asked Mr. Barnett what he thought had happened that night in Lions Park. He declined to share his thoughts with me.

"I'm sorry for your family's loss," I said just before he left.

I do hate this part of the job: Defending the decisions we make about how to cover the news. We are far from perfect, but we try every day to bring the most complete reporting to each and every event we cover.

The murder-suicide in Lions Park, the attempted murder and suicide on U.S. 250; the attempted suicide at the county jail all were major news events, and it's our job to gather and report as much information as we can.

Readers deserve to know what happens in their communities and providing the best information is what we are charged to do. We talk to as many people as we can, ask for every possible document, video, or other item related to an event and try to present all of the information.

It's our job to gather information and give it to readers -- not hold it back.

We are obligated to do that even when it involves family tragedies, but we take no pleasure in the suffering of others.