My first few months’ experience in professional journalism was the summer of 1979 as an intern at the Dallas Morning News.
Leading up to the 4th of July holiday that year, a young girl named Tyra Heath had been kidnapped and was missing for several days. The afternoon of the 4th, I was working (while the real reporters had the day off), and the call came in that Tyra’s body had been found.
I wasn’t the first choice to write the story, but another reporter and photographer had already been threatened near the crime scene by the dead girl’s grandfather, and I guess the editor needed someone who didn’t know any better to try again at the grandparents’ home.
Anyway, about 60 minutes later, I found myself talking with the girl’s grandmother through a screen door.
Teary-eyed and upset and hopelessly sad, she sized up who we were and what we wanted; for some reason, she still let us into her home. And for the next few minutes, she showed us pictures of her granddaughter and reminisced about a sweet little girl she would never see again.
As we concluded the interview and walked to the door, the grandmother said something I’ve never forgotten:
“Tyra, she’s in a better place now.”
Her words made great copy, and I did a pretty good job with the story. But as an unmarried college student, what happened to Tyra didn’t really resonate with me personally. I had no children, and the chance of anyone I knew being kidnapped seemed pretty remote back then.
Instinctively, I was right.
As our cover story in this month’s magazine tells us, there’s about a 1 in 646,000 chance that any child who lives in
These days, we all know the media has created a virtual cottage industry out of tracking kidnappings and broadcasting and rebroadcasting and rebroadcasting yet again the stories of those unlucky few. Today I’m a parent, and even though I’m almost magnetically drawn to the “news” about kidnappings nationwide, I know the odds make it almost not worrying about.
But every time I think about loosening the leash on my children, I think back on those few minutes I spent with Tyra Heath’s grandmother.
Statistically, I know it probably won’t happen to anyone we know. But all the same, when I think about how to handle our children’s freedom, I can’t forget the day someone else told me how it felt when it happened to them.
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