That means I spend many of my working hours reading about pain and suffering and working with reporters whose job is to bear witness to the most traumatic moments of people’s lives. It’s something I’ve thought about and struggled with a lot during my time at ProPublica, and it’s been exacerbated by living through the pandemic news cycle of constant misfortune and death.
Last week, in partnership with The Texas Tribune and NBC Universal, we published a story about a family poisoned by carbon monoxide fumes in Houston during the severe winter storms and power failures in February. The reporters, Perla Trevizo, Lexi Churchill, Suzy Khimm, and Mike Hixenbaugh show how a team of first responders visited Shalemu Bekele and Etenesh Mersha’s home following a 911 call reporting that the family had fainted; after knocking on the door, the emergency responders left before making contact with those insides.
After hearing nothing for several hours, Michael Negussie, the cousin who had initially called 911, called back, trying to communicate the urgency of the situation. By the time a second emergency crew pushed through what turned out to be an unlocked door, Mersha and her 7-year-old daughter had died. Bekele and his son were taken to a nearby hospital. When they were revived, they learned they’d lost half their family.
Reading the story brought me to tears. Reporting it must have been a real challenge. Living through it? An unimaginable nightmare.