Monday, May 16, 2011

Still Healing

Originally written Spring 2009

One Year Anniversary of the Parkersburg Tornado

Tracie Van Hauen endured the Parkersburg tornado, her 6-foot-4-inch body huddled beneath the basement stairs of her new home. Minutes later, she emerged a different person. The scratches from the debris have healed, but the emotional scars are still embedded deep within Tracie, though every day she progresses toward her goal.

“I’m just trying to get back to normal,” Van Hauen said.

During a series of email and phone call conversations, she relived her experience with the tornado that completely demolished her first home not even one year ago. Van Hauen, 28, purchased her home in Parkersburg in February 2008, and had just spent three months renovating it.

She survived the mile-wide EF5 tornado that took the lives of seven people in Iowa and destroyed nearly half the town of Parkersburg. Nine months later, she and her family are still dealing with the aftershock. Her father, Dale, still hasn’t recovered emotionally, and he doesn’t like to talk about it, Van Hauen said.

Originally from Wellsburg, Iowa, Van Hauen grew up the middle child of a medical secretary at McFarland Clinic in Marshalltown, Rosie, and a manager at Heartland Coop in Grundy Center, Dale. While attending Wellsburg-Steamboat Rock High School, Van Hauen participated in basketball, volleyball, softball and track. She graduated with a degree in marketing from the University of Northern Iowa, and got a job doing inside sales and purchasing at Iowa Sports Supply. Her favorite baseball team is the Boston Red Sox.

But when it comes to playing a sport, her father’s interest affects her favorite choice.

“My dad is a huge basketball fan,” she said. “He didn’t know as much about volleyball, so he couldn’t really dog me on it.” Volleyball was her favorite, though she admitted basketball was her best.

“She was the star of the team,” her cousin Michael Paterni, 21, said with a giggle, noting Van Hauen’s modesty. “But she’d never admit that.”

Before the tornado, Van Hauen enjoyed storms. Not because she finds them calming or exciting, but because they’re part of nature.

“It was cool to watch lightning,” she said. “Not anymore.”

Van Hauen used to stand outside with her father to watch tornados in towns far from them. She would only get upset if thunderstorms woke her up in the middle of the night.

Before the tornado, Van Hauen said she was very independent, leaning really only on her close-knitted family for help and support. She usually visited them once or twice a week. Aside from them, she wanted to do things on her own, she said.

“She’s just a strong person,” Paterni said to describe her attitude. “She usually doesn’t need help, and she likes it that way.”

With the help of her close family, Van Hauen spent three months renovating her Parkersburg home and by the time she finally moved in, it looked just the way she had always pictured her first house to look like, she said.

“I loved that house.”

She moved into the house nine days before the tornado struck. It was gone in less than 30 seconds.

“The day of the tornado was my dad’s birthday,” - Sunday, May 25, 2008, Tracie Van Hauen said.

That day was picturesque—a small-town Iowa family gathered to celebrate the father’s birthday. Dad, Mom, grandma, her sister and boyfriend, were there. And Van Hauen’s little spaniel puppy Bandit joined the family.

“They arrived around noon and we all had dinner at my new house,” Van Hauen said.

She still had a few more things to put into place before the renovations were completed, so she and her father did a few more little projects around her house. She said she’s not sure what everyone else did. Around 3:00 p.m., her family left.

She had just laid down for a nap with Bandit when her cell phone rang. Her father, about 20 miles from her, could see that the sky was black over in her direction.

“I could see that it was raining, the biggest rain drops I had ever seen,” Van Hauen said. But then the rain stopped. Her father told her to “keep an eye on the sky.”

Shortly after she got off the phone with her father, her sister Sara called. There was a tornado spotted in Ackley, she said—just 10 miles away. Immediately after she hung up, her mother called. The tornado was not in Ackley. It was in Aplington, just four miles away.

“I got a little more concerned,” Van Hauen said.

She turned on the news. “Take cover immediately,” the anchor said.

She grabbed her puppy Bandit and headed down into her basement, but because her basement was “really cold down there” she came back up to grab a blanket, chair, and a soda. When she was on her way back down into the basement, the siren went off. 6-foot-4-inch Van Hauen sat huddled beneath the stairs and placed Bandit on her lap.

“I still didn’t think very much of it because you never think it will actually happen,” Van Hauen said. She called her father but told him everything was fine.

Then she heard fire truck sirens going by her house, and the electricity flicked off.

“I got scared,” Van Hauen said. She saw a black cloud heading for the window.
The tornado hit the ground at 4:56 p.m.

“As soon as the tornado hit I smelled dirt from the fields,” she said.

Sitting under the basement stairs, talking to her father on the phone, Van Hauen heard her roof tearing off and began screaming that the tornado had hit her house. Her dad was already on his way. He handed the phone to her mother.

“I kept saying that the tornado was taking my house and then I didn’t hear her anymore,” Van Hauen said. “I was having a hard time of keeping the phone by my ear and hanging on to Bandit. He was running around in circles on my lap.”

Van Hauen said she wasn’t sure when it was safe to come up from the basement; “It sounded like it was gone and then swirled back around.” Finally, she decided to go up.

“It was dark in the basement, but I thought that I probably just lost some of the roof,” she said.

While walking up the basement stairs, Van Hauen noticed debris on them. Wearing flip-flops, she had to look down to watch where she was walking. When she reached the top of the stairs, she saw that her car was sitting where the garage used to be. The garage was completely gone.

After finally leaving the basement, Van Hauen entered the first floor of her house.

“As I turned to my right, I saw the utter devastation and disaster,” she said. “My kitchen wall was gone and I could see the neighbors and street behind me. The block was completely leveled. Not even a wall was left standing.”

After repeatedly trying to contact her family though various phone calls and voicemails, Van Hauen finally received a phone call from her sister and was told she was on her way with her boyfriend and his family. After that, Van Hauen couldn’t get a signal on her phone.

She then went to check on her neighbors and made sure they were OK. Her father, mother, grandma, and sister arrived and together they began the quest to salvage everything they could. They didn’t really have time to cry, she said.

“We heard about the tornado, but that’s all we knew,” her cousin Michael Paterni said. “We decided to see what was going on. It was kind of shocking. We didn’t realize it was that bad.”

Paterni and his family arrived to help.

“‘Welcome to hell’” was Van Hauen’s greeting, Paterni recalled.

Although Van Hauen can’t remember the comment, she said it would certainly describe the scene.

While Van Hauen’s big family were working to salvage her items, it down-poured and hailed twice on them; but they all stayed to help her clean up.

“Those hours are kind of blurry,” she said.

Later that night at her parents’ home, the ordeal caught up with her.

“I lost it,” Van Hauen said. She cried for half an hour.
After a night with nearly no sleep and hours spent doing laundry, Van Hauen was able to go back to her house in Parkersburg to finish going through her belongings.

“We spent most of the day there going through everything,” she said. “I got in touch with my insurance agency and they came around lunch time. I got my claim settled and a check on the spot.”

The check was enough to pay off her mortgage on her house and her home repair loan. It allowed her to make a down payment on her new car and house in Cedar Falls. It was a relief for her because she knew then that she could start over again, without any debt, she said. She sold her house lot to neighbors, who now use it as a yard.

A week after the tornado, she even brought supplies to donate to other victims at Aplington Middle School with her mom.

Losing a sense of her independence, Tracie received help from other people. About 40 people from Wellsburg came to Parkersburg to help tear down Tracie’s house the Saturday after the tornado; and Tracie received cards, gifts, and money from family, friends, and strangers. She said at first she didn’t want to take their money.

“I had to learn how to ask and accept help,” she said. “But I knew I needed it. I didn’t know where to start.”

Right after the tornado, Van Hauen said it was hard to make decisions and to commit, and her usual enjoyment of storms diminished.

“Now whenever it rains, I get scared. I hate thunder and wind,” she said. “Even this winter, when it’s very windy outside, the noise freaks me out and I have to remind myself that a tornado won’t happen.”

When the thunder rattles the windows, her heart beats faster. Every time it rains, she thinks of tornados. Sometimes her friends and coworkers will laugh about it, but Van Hauen can’t help it, she said.

“I have to remind myself to take a couple deep breaths,” she said. “I tell myself not to worry because it’s fine.”

Van Hauen is getting closer to becoming her normal self again. Although she was on sleeping pills after the tornado, a flight to Orlando, Fla., in August on a work trip helped her get over it.

“It was good to get out,” she said. “The trip helped decompress it.”

Unlike her father who is just now getting past the tornado’s effects, Van Hauen has never had a problem talking about it.

“It’s just something that I have to learn to live with and work through,” she said. “Each time I talk about it, it seems to get easier.”

Van Hauen said her father, Dale, is still too upset about the tornado to talk about it, but he is getting better. Always a builder, he worked hard renovating her Parkersburg home before the tornado.

“He probably spent more hours fixing my house than I did,” she said.

Dale was the first one to arrive after the tornado struck his daughter’s house, and it hurt him a lot, she said. He swore never to build again.

“But these last few months, he’s been getting back in his workshop,” she said. “He’s making stuff for the baby.”

Her sister Sara had a baby, Caden Dale, in early February, and Tracie has been very involved with him. Every weekend since his birth, Tracie visits her sister and her newborn baby, and they continue to hold phone conversations several times a day, she said.

“I am as involved as I can be, living 30 miles away,” she said, noting that she buys things all the time for Caden, who she says has her sister’s nose and their father Dale’s dark hair.

Van Hauen visited Parkersburg earlier this year and was surprised to see that there are “quite a bit of houses” back up, she said.

She’s busy renovating her 1960s style home in Cedar Falls, though she has no plans to completely “gut” the home as she did in Parkersburg. She purchased it in mid-August.

“I’ve spent a lot of time painting and shopping [for the new house]”, she said. One of the main goals she would like to accomplish this year is to “get this house and yard done.” Van Hauen just wants to be done so she can come home, relax, and spend time with her family, she said.

She chose Cedar Falls because it’s closer to her work, and after her check she could afford to live there. She didn’t have to worry about rebuilding in Parkersburg.

Although Van Hauen is not sure of any plans to visit Parkersburg on the anniversary of the tornado, she knows it will probably be a difficult day. But she has encouraging words for others dealing with natural disasters.

“It’ll make you stronger,” she said. “Just know that you’ll get through it.”

At her old address of 918 Highway 57, there now lie three planted trees.

“I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately, because a year ago I [bought] the house in [Parkersburg],” she said. “It’s not something I consciously think about but one second can bring it all back in an instant.”


Originally written Spring 2009

“Des Moines police: Babysitter flees as thief hides”

The Des Moines Register covered the Tuesday, March 31, 2009, arrest of a man who reportedly stole a car from a woman in Des Moines, fled from police, and hid inside a building. Once arrested, he was found to have cocaine hidden in his sock. He is charged with second-degree theft, second-degree burglary, possession with intent to deliver illegal drugs, and eluding police. He is being held on $66,000 bond.

According to police, Conall Robinson, 38, of Minneapolis, stole a car belonging to Christine Taggart, 37, of Des Moines. Robinson drove the car away, and police pursued him. Robinson then ran inside a building to hide, where Virginia McMillian was babysitting. Police said McMillian ran out of the apartment and told officers where Robinson could be located. Once he had been arrested, the officers said they found “individually wrapped pieces of crack cocaine” in Robinson’s sock. The police took Taggart to the scene of the arrest, where she identified Robinson as the person who took her car. She then drove the car home.

After reading this story, I have several questions involving Robinson, Taggart, and McMillian that were left unanswered by the reporter that covered this arrest. I want to know more about Robinson’s past encounters with the law, as well as why he was even in Des Moines considering he’s from Minnesota. I want to know more information about the alleged car theft, and definitely more information about the site of the arrest and the babysitter.

First of all, Robinson could have past run-ins with the law, considering he not only stole a vehicle, but he also ran from the police and hid in a building. He also had cocaine on his person. From my perspective, this is probably not his first arrest. I did a trial courts search in both Minnesota and Iowa using the name “Conall Robinson.” In Minnesota, the names that resulted from the search were “Cornell Robinson” who was born in December 1970—which fits the age the news story provides for Robinson, even though the first name is different. It could be the same Robinson for whom I was looking. The crimes of Cornell Robinson occurred between 1991 and 2006, and they involved cocaine, theft, burglary, disorderly conduct, drug paraphernalia, fleeing a police officer, weaponry without a permit, crack cocaine, violation of a restraining order, theft from a person, impersonating an officer, theft of a vehicle, kidnapping, assault, robbery, marijuana, driving after revocation, and loitering with intent to sell. There are 22 cases for Robinson. I’m not sure if this is the same Robinson, but these crimes seem to fit. In Iowa, according to Iowa Courts Online, my search resulted in four cases: three were for Cornell Robinson, and one was for Conall Robinson. Two of these cases involved the city of Des Moines. An important bit of information that I found is that the birthdays for Conall and Cornell Robinson are the same, which provides evidence for me that the two names are for the same person.

If this is the case, the charges in Robinson’s cases are pretty damning. I want to know why this man is out in public, especially in Iowa. I cannot view all of the details of his cases so I do not know all of his punishments, but surely there is something that could prohibit him from being in Iowa? He seems to be a repeat offender for a few of his past arrests, especially theft and cocaine—is he in Des Moines for a drug sale? Why is he in Iowa? Shouldn’t there be more information said about him in the news story? This isn’t his first arrest; this would be about his 27th or so. What’s going to happen to him? The Des Moines Register doesn’t say—they simply state that he is being held in jail on $66,000 bond (which I thought was high before I read his previous criminal history). Will there be a trial? Could he go to jail? What’s the deal? The story doesn’t tell me.

The story also doesn’t tell me much information about the cocaine that was found on him. It seems strange to me that a man kept it in his sock after the whole business of allegedly stealing a car, running from the police, and then hiding in a building. Why didn’t he throw it out so as not to receive another charge against him? I understand that it’s potential money but if he’s about to be arrested anyway, shouldn’t he have hidden it or something prior to being arrested? And how did the police find it anyway? Did Robison walk with a limp or something due to the crack cocaine, so they checked his feet? Which foot was it on? How much crack was stuffed in his sock and how big was it? What made the officers notice the cocaine? The news story doesn’t say anything about it.

I also want to know more about how he allegedly stole Taggart’s car. How did he steal it? Was the car locked or unlocked? Did Robinson break a window? Was a window rolled down? Did he somehow have the keys? The story doesn’t have an interview with Taggart or Robinson to straighten this out. Why did Robinson steal it in the first place? He is in Iowa from Minnesota, so I’m assuming he had some access to transportation. Did anybody ask Robinson why he took the car? Was it just something to do because he could easily get in the car, or did he just really want it for a disguise while selling drugs? We don’t know. Did he damage the car? The story says Taggart drove her car home from the scene of the crime, so it couldn’t have been too damaged. Was the car examined first or anything? Perhaps Robinson had cocaine in both socks and some fell out of his other sock and it’s in the car? I need more information.

I also did a trial court search on Iowa Courts Online for Taggart just to see if there was anything interesting; there were seven results for a Virginia Taggart that was born in October 1961—which fits the age provided by the news story. I could only read a little about the cases, some information for them wasn’t provided, but she did have a ticket for using a vehicle without registration. This doesn’t tell me too much about Taggart but it does tell me that this isn’t the first case involving her car.

Finally, I want to know more information about McMillian, the babysitter. In the news story it says that she was babysitting and “ran” out to police to tell them where Robinson was hiding. I want to know how old she is. In an attempt to find her age, I did another Iowa Courts Online search for Virginia McMillian. The birth year is 1961, so if this is the same McMillian, she is about 48. I want to know if she really “ran” outside, or was she slower, and more careful? And when she “ran” outside, did she take the child(ren) with her or did she leave the child(ren) in the apartment? Who was she babysitting anyway? Where they young children? Is she related to them? How many were there? Did she see Robinson or hear him? Did he know she saw him? Did he break into the apartment she was in? I want more specifics so that I can find out more about her.

One person that commented on this story online said that McMillian must be a hero if she took the kids out with her and saved them. Was she more heroic than the story leads readers to believe? Finally, I looked into her cases which totaled 36, though some were for her children who were juveniles at the time, but most were cases against her: prostitution in 1993, driving without a license or permit more than 6 times, an issue involving a rental property, 5th degree “criminal mischief,” a violation of financial liability coverage, and more that I didn’t read due to the length of her record. So, basically, I want to know who let her babysit the kids—Is McMillian fit, rather, to do so? She has a lot of issues with driving legally, obeying traffic signs and whatnot, so is she driving these kids around? I suppose not all these questions are needed since she isn’t the main person in this story, but her records do make me question her babysitting job.

Along with this, I find the headline—“Des Moines police: Babysitter flees as thief hides”—misleading. It says to me that either the babysitter is the main person in the story or that the babysitter seemed afraid and fled. It doesn’t say she ran out to tell the officers about Robinson’s whereabouts. A better headline is needed. Also, I’m not sure the photo of the African-American Robinson is necessary.

It seems to me that this story is a skeleton of what the real story should be. It has the backbones but nothing else. The extra information the Des Moines Register left out is necessary to fill the whole body of the story.

Who's Your Daddy?

Originally written 2/18/11

Dan McCarney’s daughter arrested for assault on police officer

The Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Cedar Rapids Gazette covered the arrest of a former Iowa State University football coach’s 21-year-old daughter in Iowa City on Saturday, February 14, 2009. Originally arrested for keeping a disorderly house, Jillian Kristina McCarney reportedly swore at, threatened, and tried to kick and strike the peace officer with her shoulder. She was then charged with assaulting a police officer as well.

McCarney reportedly repeated her status of Dan McCarney’s daughter, threatened that her father would take physical action on the officers, and told the officer that her charges would be dropped because as a McCarney she has “a lot of money.”

Both papers did give background information on Dan McCarney, but only the Gazette reported her release on the morning after her arrest. After reading the Press-Citizen I found myself asking many questions about the arrest—questions that were also left unanswered by the Gazette. I want to know more information about both Dan and Jillian McCarney.

Neither newspaper article addressed Jillian McCarney’s intoxication level and temperament, the number of responding officers, her relevance to the news, information about her, the reason behind her release from jail, and her friends’ and family’s responses.

Jillian McCarney reportedly boasted of her father’s status and said some rather bold things to the officers. I want to know if she was drunk at the time of her arrest, and if she was I want to know what her blood alcohol level was. Was she highly intoxicated or was she sober? Her words are even bolder if she was sober.

If I were the reporter for either newspaper, I would have asked the police officers what her state of mind was, if she was irate and disheveled or calm and orderly. Neither article actually gives her temperament. I assume she was angry and intoxicated, since she attempted to strike an officer with her shoulder and kick with her left leg. But I don’t know for sure.
I would have asked the officers how many officers responded to her disorderly house, which officers arrested her, and who called the police on the disorderly house. Was she throwing a party, were there other people there, does she have roommates?

I also want to know why her arrest was worthy of a news story. I understand from both newspapers that her father Dan grew up in Iowa City, played football here and was later an assistant coach, became the head football coach at ISU, and is now the University of Florida’s football defensive line coach and assistant head coach. But what relevance do his Iowa City connections have to her arrest?

I am from Texas and as such, I had no idea who Dan McCarney is. It was helpful that both articles included back matter on McCarney’s career; however, I failed to see Jillian’s importance in the news. Many young adults are arrested in Iowa City during the weekend and are listed in the police blotter.

If Dan McCarney had been arrested, that’s news. If Dan McCarney had commented on Jillian’s arrest using threatening and negative phrases against the officers, that is news. Aside from her father’s career, what makes Jillian’s arrest worthy of its own news story?

According to search results of the University of Iowa website, a Jillian McCarney is listed as running and placing in the 29th River Run at the age of 20. I would find out if she is active at the university or in the community, what her major is, if she has a job and where. I’d like to look up the towns she has lived in, and why she is a student at the UI. If she is very active in volunteering or somehow works to better the community, it is then newsworthy to report on her arrest.

I also would have checked the jail records to see why she was released, as reported by the Gazette. The Press-Citizen reported that assaulting an officer can land the person up to a year in prison as well as fined $1,500. I would have found out if she was fined and if she will be sent back to jail after a trial perhaps.

According to Iowa Courts Online, Jillian McCarney has four cases: her disorderly house, her assault on peace officers and others, a speeding ticket in 2006 for which she was found guilty, and one under the case name of another individual. No other information is stated in these records, but it does report that her assault’s sentence date is “null.”

Dan McCarney doesn’t appear to have any arrest records in Iowa Courts Online, but I’d like to know his stance on drinking and arrests on young people. Did he have a history of working with troubled youth while in Iowa City or elsewhere?

The Press-Citizen reports that they reached Jillian by phone, but she said she had no comment. I would try to contact her roommates if she has them and other people who were around during her arrest. Their information and observations could be important. I would definitely try to contact her parents to find out their reactions to Jillian’s arrest.

I want more information and a longer story. I understand the Gazette’s shorter story; their article was published the day after the arrest. However, the Press-Citizen’s story was published the Monday after; they had one more day to gather information, and they only had two more grafs—one about her grandfather and a sentence that said she had no comment.

Neither article reported enough. Both failed to go beyond brief information. Their inability to dig deeper and report those facts leaves me unsatisfied as a reader, as well as a journalist.

Before the Burial

Originally written 5/12/2009

How journalists uncover the truth when covering the murders of children: The Kehoe family incident

In late October 2008, a woman and her two young sons set out for an evening away from their home in Coralville, Iowa, to Sumner. Originally reported missing by the father Eugene, the family was found the next day after the injured woman went to a home and said that her sons “were in danger.” Later, the youngest son was found dead outside the family’s van, and the older boy was found severely injured inside it.

Michelle Kehoe, 35, her sons Seth, 2, and Sean, 7, were found near a pond by the Hook ‘N’ Liner Sportsman Club in Littleton, Iowa. Michelle and Sean were injured and taken to hospitals for surgery, but Seth was found dead at the scene.

The family’s van was undamaged and parked near the pond. At the time, the public did not know what happened to the family, how Seth died, or why the family was at the pond and not near Sumner.

The Tuesday after the incident, the Cedar Rapids Gazette published a story about it, and on Wednesday the Des Moines Register did too. Although the two papers reported most of the same information the closed-mouth officials said, the papers reported from different circumstances—sometimes using very different writing styles—and included extra information that the other did not report.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette published its first story about the incident on the Tuesday after. Orlan Love, the Northeast Iowa Bureau Chief for the paper, covered the incident after visiting the scene of the crime.

“Unknowns overshadow the known facts in an incident in which a 2-year-old Coralville boy was killed Sunday or early Monday near a remote pond southeast of this Buchanan County hamlet,” the lede said. The reporter Love framed his story with this in mind.

Love has worked 17 years as a journalist, 16 of them at the Gazette. He said he has covered many children’s deaths, including the recent winter deaths of four children in a fire in a rural Greenly farmhouse. Most of his child-death stories have involved automobile accidents, however.

He lives 32 miles north of Cedar Rapids and works from home. Love first heard about the Kehoe family incident from his editors. He said he believes his editors might have found out about it from police scanners. The editors told Love to “get up there to Littleton.”

Because Love handles the stories in Northeast Iowa and is closer to Littleton, he was sent to cover the story. Initially, Love didn’t know that anyone was killed, let alone a child.

He said he arrived to the scene of the crime at Hook ‘N’ Liner around noon on Monday, Oct. 27.

“[It] was so unseasonably cold that most of the reporters sat in their cars with the engines running while awaiting the press conference,” he said.

At least half a dozen news media organizations were waiting at the scene. Love said it was difficult to report the story because the police wouldn’t let reporters get to the actual crime scene. Everything was blocked off, and the area was secure.

“It was a hard story to cover because law enforcement had so thoroughly cordoned off the scene, blocking access to the neighbors who might have seen or heard something and, especially, to the neighbor whose home was visited by Mrs. Kehoe when she reported her version of the incident,” Love said.

Although the media grouped around the blockade to hear information from officials, Gazette reporter Love didn’t talk much to other reporters.

“[I figured] they have more to learn from me than I do from them,” he said.

During the middle of the afternoon, the press conference occurred. Michelle was not named a suspect. As the day wore on, and when the conference was over, Love’s curiosity sparked. Officials worded things carefully.

“The police said earlier that people were not in danger, kind of like they already knew who [committed the crime],” Love said, mentioning that that could have meant someone in the family, especially the mother, could have done it. “It was kind of like they knew the mom did it. That raised suspicions.”

How did Love feel about Michelle possibly killing one son and severely injuring the other?

“You try not to lean toward anything,” he said. “Certainly, the thought entered my mind.”

Love said that because there were questions in his mind, he chose to write his story to match that attitude: what was not known was actually more important than what was known.

Following his lede, the next graph started with “What’s known is that…,” and it was then followed by the much larger graph that began “What remains to be learned, at least by the public, is…” Even the headline begins with “Family tragedy a mystery…”

An interesting three graphs at the end of the story included information from Carol Trueg, the president of Regina Catholic Education School, who said Sean is a first grader at the Iowa City school. A statement from her said that they’re thankful Sean is alive, and their prayers go out to the whole family. She also said the school children weren’t aware of the incident yet, but that counselors will be available to children after they’re notified.

The Gazette reporter Love did not find this information himself.

Although not included with his story, Love said he had help from another Gazette reporter. Because the story was from a while ago, he can’t remember for sure which reporter helped him, but he said he thinks it was Gregg Hennigan.

According to Love, Hennigan “did the digging in Coralville,” and emailed information to him. Love said he is proud that the Gazette uses reporters in the Coralville/Iowa City area.

When asked about the case, Hennigan confirmed that he was the reporter that helped Love and gave Love the Trueg information. Hennigan has been a professional journalist for five years, and has been at the Gazette for three. He said he has covered a “decent” amount of deaths.

Hennigan said he can’t remember exactly how he figured out that Sean Kehoe went to that school, but he knew Carol Trueg and called her up.

Hennigan said Trueg was willing to talk.

“It was a difficult situation, of course, but from what I remember, she answered every question she could,” he said. “I wouldn’t say she was comfortable, given the situation. But who would be?”

Hennigan asked her the “most basic” questions first.

“Did they go there, age, grade, teachers, is there a photo, etc?” he said. “And then I work my way into the tougher questions—what were they like, did you know the parents, what have you told students happened, how are they taking it?” He said that Trueg actually asked him what he knew about the crime because she didn’t have a lot of information.

When covering these types of stories, Hennigan said he tries to be as sensitive as possible, while still trying to get as much information as possible. The same goes for when he interviews parents. He said he usually says that he is trying to give readers an understanding of who the person was besides this horrible event that just happened.

“And that’s the truth,” Hennigan said. “You have to remind yourself that these people have just been through a tragedy and balance that with trying to do your job.”

Love said that in covering children’s deaths, the Gazette tries to present a complete story without infringing unduly upon the grieving family.

“I always make an effort to speak with the parents, prefacing my call with an expression of sympathy and understanding if they don’t want to talk with me,” he said. “We also usually try to speak with other relatives, school officials, and classmates in an effort to find out something personal about the deceased.”

Love said he did not hold anything back when it came to reporting about the boy’s death. But “that was not a dilemma since so little was known.”

Erin Jordan from the Des Moines Register reported her story from her office in Iowa City. Published the day after Love’s story, she had results from Seth’s autopsy that was released Tuesday. “Boy, 2, died of stabbing injuries to his neck,” ran her story’s headline. The autopsy said he died of “sharp force injuries.”

She said she’s written several stories about children dying, “unfortunately.” These stories usually involve talking to a family member, if possible, to find out about the child’s personality, what he or she liked to do, she added.

“I’ve always wanted to make any person who has died seem more like a full person than just a statistic,” Jordan said. “You also want to talk with law enforcement about the person’s guardians to see whether they have criminal records.” She’s been a full-time newspaper reporter for 11 years and has been with the Register for nearly six, she said.

Jordan found out about the Kehoe incident from a report in another newspaper, maybe the Gazette, she said. “I believe we were following [that report].”

When she wrote her version of the incident, it took her about seven to eight hours to report and write.

Because her story came out the day after other newspapers, she had those stories to look at too.

“I think there was a pervious story, so I had some basic information,” she said.

According to Jordan, she called the sheriff in the county where the incident occurred as well as Iowa City police to talk about the incident in which Kehoe drove into the river. She did a number of phone interviews and looked at court records online. She tried to talk to the father, Eugene, but she doesn’t think he returned her call, she said.

“This story was some time ago and the details are a little fuzzy,” Jordan said.

She did not write, however, any information from anyone other than officials, though she previously said a reporter should try to talk to family members and other people to make the child more than a statistic.

“If I recall, I didn’t have time to contact other family members or neighbors,” she said. “I did a good deal of time that day trying to track down what happened in Northeast Iowa.”

Jordan said the Des Moines Register normally reports details of the deaths of children by “trying to talk with family members, neighbors, school principals, etc.”

“It all depends on the time and the circumstances of the case,” she said. “As you might imagine, it’s much more sensitive to talk with family in a case like this where another family member is accused of injuring a child.”

In the case of the Greenly fire that killed four children, Jordan said she talked with the kids’ grandmother and a neighbor who called 911.

The most interesting part of Jordan’s story about the Kehoe case, aside from the “sharp force injuries” to the dead child’s neck information, was in the twelfth graph. Jordan reported that Coralville police had one other call from the Kehoe house prior to the incident.

“That was on Jan. 20, when Coralville took a medical call about Seth getting ‘caught on a treadmill.’ The boy had cuts on his stomach, but was not taken to the hospital,” the graph said.

Jordan said it’s “just normal reporting protocol” to check for criminal records through Iowa Courts Online and to seek other police calls for service. She said she did not hope to find anything specific when she made these checks. She said she had asked Iowa City police whether there were any other incidents involving the Kehoe family or calls for service at their house. The treadmill report came from that request.

“I wasn’t sure what to think about the treadmill report. I have young kids and they often get minor injuries and treadmills are exciting for almost any child,” Jordan said. “On the other hand, I wanted to report it to the public and let them decide whether it was relevant.”

When it came time to write her story, Jordan said she tried to remain unbiased.

“It is definitely a sad case that left one child dead and tore apart a family,” she said.