Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Little Perspective

This was on my mind for most of the weekend, but I needed some time before I could post about it. As a father, it is the kind of situation that breaks your heart and when it hits close to home it makes it even tougher.

Ten years ago, when Shannon was a cub reporter at the Pekin Times, there was this happy little girl with big glasses who was always hanging around the office with her mom and dad. That little girl was Hanna Holder, the PCHS senior who died unexpectedly last week. Wednesday night my wife was out in the cold covering the vigil that students held for Hanna.

Shannon went to the visitaton on Friday and found Hanna's mom, Michelle so thankful for the way she told their story, when in reality all my wife wanted was to make sure what she did just didn't make it any harder on a friend in the midst of the most tragic of circumstances.

I can't imagine what Michelle is going through, but she remains in our thoughts and prayers.

I have posted one of Shannon's stories and part of an editorial the Times did that is a good read for working journalists who visit this site.

Death becomes all too familiar to PCHS
By Shannon Tebben Sandoval
Thursday, February 2, 2006 1:34 PM CST
Times correspondentPEKIN - Pekin Community High School students have learned some hard truths this year about the fragility of life and the finality of death.It's a lesson that more often comes later in life, not in the prime of youthful exuberance and invincibility. But since the beginning of this school year alone, seven PCHS students have died.Senior Matt Spialek said that means virtually every student has lost someone they knew somehow, and it's leaving many of them feeling “numb.”“(Hanna Holder's) death was shocking, but the fact that a student has died is no longer shocking to us,” he said. “It's a routine - we know what we're supposed to do.”Emotional outlet
As soon as the announcement was made Wednesday morning about Holder's death, Spialek said students knew to head to the library if they needed an emotional outlet.A memorial wall for students to write messages was already in place as well.Previous deathsLast September, PCHS sophomores Ashley Waddell, Zachary Swingle, and Andrew Ford were killed in a single-car accident.Just a month later, freshmen Cory DePeugh and Drew Turner died when their dirt bikes collided.In December, another PCHS student, Jacob Smith, died of leukemia.
“It seems like with every death, it hits a little closer to home,” said PCHS Senior Chelsea McCoy.Before the school day was over, plans for a candlelight vigil to honor Holder were already made.Student-led vigilDistrict 303 Superintendent Paula Davis pointed out that Wednesday's vigil, like the two that were held last fall, was conceived, planned, and carried out by the students themselves with no official “endorsement” by the school.“It's very humbling,” Davis said. “The maturity and the grace (the students) show in the face of such anguish is remarkable.”Staff supportDavis - who is in her first year as the district's top administrator - said it's important for school staff to support the students however they can as they work through their grief.
“They know we don't have the answers,” she said. “Here we are, a group of adults that are supposed to have the answers, as teachers, but not in something like this.”MessagesBy nightfall on Wednesday, some students had written messages on their cars as a way to cope with their feelings.One car in the school lot had “Hanna = Math Goddess!” and “Keep Smiling Hanna” written on the windows.Poster boards taped to the pillars outside the school's entrance also had written messages on them.Familiar routineSpialek said even the logistics of holding a vigil have, sadly enough, become a familiar routine for the students.They've learned along the way to bring paper plates and paper cups to hold the candles and avoid the melting wax.Senior Brian White said the deaths have brought students together as they express their emotions.“I'd say that we've definitely learned to rely on each other for support, we can let each other know how we're feeling and trust each other.”

Difficult job needs to be done
By Times staff
Saturday, February 4, 2006 1:49 AM CST
One of the more controversial things the news media does is cover death.When we write stories about it, we are sometimes accused of intruding upon people's private grief.This Wednesday morning, we learned that the latest in a heartbreaking string of student deaths was one of our own.Pekin Community High School senior Hanna Holder was well known here at the Pekin Daily Times, not only because of her part-time job here, but because her mother is our advertising director and her father worked here before his death several years ago.People here were faced with breaking the news to co-workers, many of whom had known Hanna since she was a young child.Through the tears and heartache, we still had a job to do. We knew we had to provide the same coverage we would in any other case.
And we did. Within about two hours of her death, we had to pull together a story about it.Wednesday night, the student candlelight vigil drew not only grieving teenagers but journalists. Again, we had an uncomfortable job to do.Ironically, a teenage child of an editor here - a child who has grown up in a media family - felt angry at the news coverage. “Why can't they just leave us alone? This is our time to grieve,” she said.While she and her friend had not even noticed the newspaper journalists who were there to interview and photograph, they felt intruded upon when the bright lights of the television crews overpowered their little candles.However, watching the television coverage a few hours later, her mother pointed out how many people who could not participate in the candlelight vigil were able to feel a part of it by viewing news coverage.And at that point, the teenager finally understood the value of allowing the media to “intrude.”
We cover these stories for many reasons.One is to answer questions and dispel rumors as to what really happened.These stories also help everyone to see what kind of a person has been lost. Those who knew and loved all the children we've lost in the last five months were already aware what a loss their deaths are to the world.There is no bringing back the light these children were to this world.But by giving their friends and loved ones a forum to talk about them, the rest of us can learn what we missed out on by not getting to know them before it was too late.

1 comment:

Steve Gehlbach said...

great story Shannon. really liked the lead.

one more thing...who are these photogs turning on their lights at a candlelight vigil? I hate that.