I’m supposed to write a story before Tuesday, about the extremely emotional memorial service I attended on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005.
So much occurred. So much was learned. So much entered my heart, and exited as it was pushed out by even more emotion and knowledge. So how do I write such a story? How can I be a reporter, yet at the same time be a friend, a person who was emotionally involved in the event? A reporter should be fair, accurate, and honest. And most of all, at least to me, a reporter should not be a part of his/her story, but rather should be an impartial observer. Yet I was a part of this story. I was there. I cried. No, I wept. I shook with emotion vicariously as I empathized with those who felt the emotions directly.
Yes, for all of my left-brain amiable, efficient and cool exterior, I am – on the inside – an empath. I feel deeply for the people in my stories, even when I only speak with them over the telephone. But when I’m there in person, I can’t help but become an integral part of what’s going on, at least from my viewpoint.
When I saw Richard Carolina burned to death in his car on Oklahoma’s State Highway 9, between Seminole and Wewoka, I held it all in. But when I got home, with my pictures and my story, I vomited. I cried. Alone. And when I saw the fatal house fire in Wewoka where an 18-month-old died, and the boy’s uncle tried and tried to get into the house to rescue him, I sat on the curb and shook with the same inner pain and frustrated rage that consumed that man outside the flame-drenched windows. It’s the same every time.
Today, I saw a family that has been in mourning for just over a year now. Casey Jo Pipestem was brutally murdered and found in Grapevine, Texas, and the suspect is still on the loose, having killed at least a dozen other women in this state and others. I was there from the beginning, writing the stories that wrenched their hearts, attending the funeral that sobered everyone, waiting impatiently for the trucker/killer to be caught and brought to justice. And I was there today, supposedly watching this family heal. While they were healing, though, it was difficult to pay attention, because I was healing too.
Brought in as a guest, a friend, a reporter, I was finding my own catharsis in the midst of this family’s anguish and celebration of Casey’s life.
So… What will my story say? What will I write? How do align my dual role as reporter and friend? Well, as they say, nothing good comes easy.
It’ll probably start something like this…
NO DRY EYES
Pipestem’s Family Celebrates Victim’s Life,
Honors Family That Brought Her Home
The detective wept. The family who found the body was loved. There were even tears in the eyes of the crew from “America’s Most Wanted.”
At a public memorial service for Casey Jo Pipestem Saturday afternoon, there was no one who remained untouched by the raw emotion in the Hitchite Methodist Church. And a short trip to her body’s final resting place served further to entrench a sense of brotherhood and family togetherness into a family torn apart by grief.
Pipestem, murdered by an unknown suspect barely more than a year ago, was just 19 years old when she was found in a creek bed in Grapevine, Texas, the victim of rape and strangulation, according to police. After a harried search to identify the girl, using only tattoos and contacts with Oklahoma’s Seminole Nation, police quickly began to search for a suspect, but have come up empty-handed.
The family, searching for closure, decided to draw together, along with the officer working the case and the family who found the body….
…And then the story will continue, hopefully bringing accurate and emotional words to the reader, to describe just what was done and felt Saturday, on those ancient Indian grounds.
I’ll try to include the traditional Native American songs, the choked-up prayers in the Seminole language, the smoke ceremony at the gravesite. I also hope to describe the smiling children, some of whom seemed blissfully unaware of the reason for the gathering, and the crisp clean air of the Oklahoma countryside. Of course, I must also relate the beautiful songs that were sung inside the church proper, the messages that were delivered by preachers attempting to bring a sense of peace into ripped hearts. In the midst of this, will I have room to talk about the wonderful food, the hearth-warm hospitality, and the glow on the faces of those who spoke tastefully about Casey’s rocket-bright life? I hope so. God, I hope so.