It’s been a year since Noah Ramos and Lexi Wiezorek drove off South River Road and plummeted into the river. When I heard news of the accident the next morning, reporter Liz McCue was already on the phone trying to figure out what happened. But that question wouldn’t be answered that day, that week or even that month. On May 24, the Sunday after the accident, the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office resumed its efforts to recover the vehicle. I took over the story that day and followed it through until the end.
Day after day I stood out on the river bank, usually alongside Amy Kauffman or Beatriz Reyna from the television station and the families of the two teenagers whose fates were unknown. We watched as law enforcement, dive teams and heavy equipment operators grew more and more frustrated, as the family members grew more and more weary.
Most of the time, I felt like I was in the way. I was imposing on an incredibly painful time for two local families. I wondered if there was anything I could say that would offer them any comfort.
Amy and I were on the scene when the car was recovered in July, after the river finally went down. We checked on a family member who’d grown upset and was moved farther from the scene, hoping we could do something to ease her pain. Amy held her hand, a silent reminder that journalists are people with hearts and we hate to see others hurting. She thanked us and I think we were both at a loss. This woman suffering from an unspeakable amount of pain thanked us for our work - for trying to get the facts out, for being respectful, for caring enough to check on her.
After they recovered that car, Beatriz came out to make sure we were OK. She’s been in the news industry longer and knew it would be rough for us. She let us know it was OK for us to hurt too. I can’t speak for Amy, but I remember thinking, “What right do I have to grieve? I’m just a reporter.”
Seeing other people in pain hurts though; it’s human nature to be bothered by it. I don’t think journalists are immune. I went back to the office and sobbed in the parking lot. I silently cried in my cubicle when the story was turned in, and took the next day off because I needed to decompress. My pain was nothing compared to what those families suffered when they lost Noah and Lexi, but it was certainly there.
I will never forget working on that story, and I don't think it will ever not break my heart. I did think that after covering that kind of tragedy, I might develop some immunity to other tough stories, but I was wrong.
In April, three former North Platte residents were killed in a helicopter crash. I had just gotten back from an interview when my editor handed me the phone number for Butch Rasmussen and asked me to call him to get more information. I stared at the piece of paper for a long, long time wondering what I was supposed to say.
When I spoke to him, he mentioned seeing the news story of the crash on television, thinking it was awful and moving on with his day because at the time he had no idea that two of the five who were killed were his grandchildren, Peyton and Parker.
Their mother, Johna Morvant, was also killed. The next day, I spoke to Johna’s mother. Frankly, it was one of the hardest interviews I’ve ever done. She told me about Johna’s love for her pot-bellied pigs - one had just had piglets - and how much she enjoyed sitting by the koi pond at home. She reminded me that Johnna was more than just a victim of an accident. I cried when I hung up the phone.
Multiple sources in both of those stories said the same thing to me, “We don’t want them to be forgotten.”
Sometimes, we see these horrible stories, and we think, “That’s terrible,” and move on. With social media and round-the-clock access to news sources, we’ve become used to tragedy. Sometimes victims become nothing more than names printed in black and white. But we can’t allow that to happen.
When you hear about a tragedy, look at that name a little longer. It belonged to a person who was loved very, very much. A person whose families are trying to hold themselves together after suffering a massive loss. A person who wanted to grow up to be a model, or one who just got their life on track and was an aspiring rapper. A person who was in love and looking forward to college, one with a quirky sense of humor, or a newlywed who loved watching the koi fish. Every black and white name is a person who lived in full color. Behind every black and white name is a family whose world is suddenly dull. Don’t forget them.
To those who’ve suffered a public loss like these, know that somewhere there is a reporter who will never forget. We often don’t reach out because we fear crossing the line and invading your lives more than we already have had to, but we think of you and your loved ones often. They’re immortalized in print and have a permanent piece of our souls.
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