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Reporting the facts when emotions are involved

Last Friday, as I started to mentally check in to my own Mother’s Day weekend — one I hoped to be full of Netflix, silence and take-out Thai food — I got the call from my boss that there had been another shooting in Boerne.

I selfishly huffed knowing I’d have to follow up over the weekend — my weekend — for the details. But my attitude got checked real quick when I learned the details of my next byline.

The initial reports came in from the police scanner, and the accounts were confusing. But as we started to track down leads and piece things together, it seemed that just a couple of days before Mother’s Day, a woman was calling to report that her adult child was dead, and her husband had pulled the trigger.

Without any more details, I knew it would be a tough story. But as more facts unfolded, and rumors swirled about how this man actually died, I knew it was important to bring the facts to the surface. It was important to get this right.

But doing what’s right isn’t always what’s easy.

I found phone numbers of the family members and pathways to contact them. But I held off from reaching out. The last thing these people needed was another person asking for the details of their personal tragedy. I decided to go off of police records and what I could confirm with the Kendall County Sheriff’s Office.

I put the story to bed, and it broke Monday night when it was put on The Star’s Facebook page, with additional details coming in Tuesday’s actual newspaper.

But it didn’t leave me. Every single human involved had facets to them I wasn’t able to publish. I discovered connections from this family to people I know. I found posts suggesting the guy died the day before his birthday. I had nightmares about my children drowning at a birthday party that night.

As I tracked down leads, I heard rumors that this young man died of a drug overdose. I don’t know if drugs were involved or not, but what I knew is that he had been shot. Those were the facts. Drugs might have led the charge, but those details weren’t available. I could only write what we knew.

There are painful details we’ll never know, and it’s not my place as the reporter to speculate. As the reporter, my place is to put on record an event that happened in this community. Set down facts where rumors crept in. Then move on to the minutes of a planning and zoning meeting.

But as a mother my heart broke for this family. The idea that none of us can fully control our children’s destiny was not lost on me. There are paths in our children’s lives that we just don’t control. When we hold that tiny being for the first time, we never imagine the worst.

Bringing my first-born child into the world was a struggle. It took 22 hours to end the hostage negotiation she was orchestrating in my body, and three of those hours were spent pushing. She must’ve clung to my ribcage with her tiny toes for weeks to get that level of strength.

But exhausted as I was, when I held her for the first time all I could think about was all the good I was going to do in the world through her. She was the perfect clean slate for me to write the most beautiful story. I would spare her all my mistakes, and she would emerge as a polished version of myself.

But that’s not how parenting works at all. Breast milk or formula, cloth diapers or mountains of Pampers, C-section or natural birth in the woods with a squirrel for a midwife — none of it adds up to a satisfaction guarantee. Because children are full human beings, and every single one has flaws.

I don’t know if it was drugs, depression, anxiety, family strife or Mercury in retrograde that led to this tragedy I reported on, but I know there are real people behind the story. And believe me when I say the humanity is not lost on me.

But the front page is for facts, and my column is for feelings. And since the facts have been put to bed, I’m left with feelings of sadness and heartbreak for a family that suffered a tragedy that no parent could imagine.

I feel guilt for even a moment of selfish exasperation. I feel gratitude for an uneventful Mother’s Day. And I feel responsibility to get up again this morning and keep doing what I’ve been trained to do.