July 22, 2007
“Six weeks ago I had a pretty negative view of the media,” said Kevin Blaine, the father of a pregnant woman who was recently murdered in Raleigh. “Now, I can’t say enough positive about the media.”
It was an unexpected and unsolicited remark -- words that I have rarely heard uttered in my 18 years in the business.
My questions seem shallow and disrespectful compared to the gravity of his answers. But Blaine sets my mind at ease. He wants to talk about Jenna, a joyful young mother who worked because she wanted to contribute to the family’s income. He wants to talk about the case, about the fact that a random act of violence took his daughter away from him -- and it could happen to another family. He wants to talk about the Web site his family has created to help investigators find the killer, www.justice4jenna.org.
At times, his eyes fill with tears, and a visible lump forms in his throat; his words get snagged momentarily on the edge of his grief, but the moment passes swiftly. He is back on track, focusing on what he needs to do, what his family needs to do to make it to the other end of the dark tunnel. In Blaine’s mind, the media is a partner with him in this journey. He wants the media’s help; he needs the media’s help to keep Jenna’s memory alive, to keep the investigation fresh in everyone’s minds.
What Blaine doesn’t need are special-interest groups that want to capitalize on the tragedy by “teaming up” with his family and potentially exploiting it for their own benefit. He tells me he has eschewed requests from political groups who want to use them as examples. (They have been fighting to change the law in North Carolina so that murdering a pregnant woman is a double homicide.) What Blaine wants is to stay “neutral,” he says, so he can reach out to everyone who may be able to help find Jenna’s killer. He says he cannot afford to alienate anyone in what has become clearly one of the most important battles of his life.
In many ways, Jenna Nielsen’s family is a case-study on how families cope with violence in the 21st century. They refuse to sit back and wait while investigators try to solve the case. They are aggressively pursuing every avenue possible to do what they can to help.
If the media can help Blaine and his family get out their message, then it behooves us to help. After all, we have the power to reach tens of thousands of people every day. It’s a power that we should take seriously, use responsibly and never forget that someone’s tragedy is not just the lead story on the six o’clock news. It’s their life.