Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A tough assignment

As a photojournalist, you get tossed into the heart of a lot of very difficult situations. All this week, I've been covering the case of missing seventeen-year-old Chelsea King.

Thursday, she went for a run at a Rancho San Bernardo park on a jogging trail that encircles Lake Hodges, and disappeared. Her car was left in the parking lot with her cell phone and bag. When she didn't come home, her dad went looking for her and found her car. Sunday, police arrested John Gardner, a registered sex offender, after finding an article of Chelsea's clothes with his DNA on it. This isn't the first time for Gardner. The guy shouldn't be free to stalk young women. Our system is seriously broken.

I have a tough time with assignments like this, one, because it's obviously emotionally tough, but two, because I'm not fond of putting a camera in people's faces when they're grieving. Late in the day, they found Chelsea's body, but even so, her parents showed up at the planned vigil to thank the thousands of people who had helped search for her. The media, of course, swarmed them. Me included. I'm never proud of that moment. I think it's vile. My reporter justified it this way: the family has been very open with the media from the beginning. They knew media would be at this event. For them, it was expected, and a way to get their message out to all watching. And she had a point.

We lead such a weird life. I looked behind me last night, and for as far as I could see, reporters and cameras lined the yellow tape doing hits for the six o'clock news. What is it about human beings that we need to hear news like this? I'm not suggesting we live in a bubble, and yes, by getting news like this out there perhaps laws will be changed regarding sex offenders like John Gardner, but... I don't know. The energy behind the story disturbed me a bit. Our piece last night was lovely. Candlelight makes for very pretty pictures, especially on the emotional faces of the attendees. But the guilt part of me kicked in, as it always does. Is it right to exploit grief?

Or are we simply honoring the life of a loved and respected young lady? Some family's shun the media during these situations, others open themselves up. I don't quite understand the motivation, and I suppose, should accept that it is their choice. I'm a private mourner. I don't like for even those close to me to know when I'm hurt, so I guess I can't relate, and that's why I get agitated by our invasion of a griever's privacy. But maybe for some it provides  comfort to know the world will learn a little bit more about their loved one.

Today we head to court for John Gardner's arraignment. With her body found, they will be able to charge him with rape and murder. I hope the man never sees the light of day again. 

And now... it's time to go.


  1. oh lori. such unbearable tragedy. there are no words in any lexicon that come close to what those people are feeling. i don't think you're exploiting grief because it isn't the grief that brings the audience . . . it's the WHAT IF, the horror, the thank god it isn't my kid, the LET'S DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS. hard to imagine the grit it takes to do your job, but we need to hear news like this because the world has grown exponentially and there is no going back. with stories like this the world suddenly shrinks to the size of ten million individual broken hearts in ten million separate living rooms. i think there must be some kind of solace for the grieving in that sharing - vast yet personal. everything's broken except for kindness like yours.


  2. Thank you so much, Suki. It's by far the toughest part of my job, trying to hold on to my deep compassion, yet still tell the story. And you're right. Stories like this stir people to action. The parents are still doing interviews and said they will spend the rest of their lives trying to strengthen laws against sexual predators.