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Impossible not to be shaken by case

Tue., Aug. 19, 2008

After nearly 30 years in the news business (yes, I really did start writing for my hometown newspaper at the age of 16), I like to think of myself as calm and fairly tough in the face of news of all types.

I covered a rather gruesome murder trial during my first full-time job out of college at a small daily newspaper and never flinched. But I was young and brash, that case didn’t involve young children, and I wasn’t yet a mother of two.

On Friday night, after three days of intense immersion in the blood-drenched reality of the Joseph Duncan case, I came home from the courthouse only to find blood smeared all over my bathroom floor. I couldn’t help it; I screamed. It turned out the cat had killed a mouse in there; my husband kindly cleaned up the mess while I freaked.

Then, last night, I awoke at 2:30 a.m. to a strange noise on the back patio, followed by the sound of our back patio door softly sliding open, then back shut. I froze. Lying petrified in bed my first half-asleep, panicked thought was that someone had come for our kids.

Of course, that wasn’t the case. My teenage daughter, who was leaving for college in the morning, was still up and had gone out back to spray-paint a shelf she’s taking for her dorm room. The strange noise was her shaking the spray paint can.

But it is impossible not to be shaken by the horrific details of the Duncan case. It reaches the core of something every parent holds deep inside: the desire to protect and raise our children to live their own happy lives. As a parent, I know that when I first looked into the beautiful face of my newborn child, everything changed. Life’s priorities rearranged, and this amazing, miraculous little person who had come into the world took an indelible place in my heart. That feeling only strengthened when my son was born three years later.

Monday, my oldest left home, driving off with her dad for the big trip to college. After the hugs, photos and goodbyes, I stood waving, and the cat (now forgiven) rubbed affectionately against my leg. My daughter’s indelible mark is still there in my heart; I know it always will be.

Sitting in court last week, another reporter who’s pregnant described the strange sensation of feeling her baby kick while hearing about the horrific end of another child’s life. This case gets to everyone. And it’s not just parents – the crimes involved in this case violate something central we all feel as human beings that must be wired into our very nature to enable us to survive as a human race: the sense that innocent children are not to be harmed.

That’s part of the reason why it’s so important to cover this case, even when the tale is a terrible one. The proceedings we’re seeing now in court are how we as a society deal with cases like this. It’s how justice is done in our system. Readers are free to look away – some may not want to read about such things. But I’m not. If we in the press don’t report what happens, no one will know if justice has been done, and that’s something for which we all have a deep and basic need.

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