Friday, August 5, 2011

Bakersfield and all it means

A week ago I was in Bakersfield, covering the viewing and memorial of the 30 year old mother and her four children.

Got first notice of the assignment 24 hours before I was on I-5. Wednesday, my News Director called and asked if I'd be interested in covering the story. Of course, I was. Before I could go, I called the victims' brother and uncle, Jesse Adams, who I had talked with when he was in town the week before. He said it was ok, and that was the greenlight my boss needed.

What were our options if we didn't travel? We could rely on the ABC affiliate to cover the story, put it together, then send it to us. But that's like asking your cousin who lives in another state to pick out a gift that you would be giving to your kids. It's impersonal. It doesn't build off of the stories that have already been told.

So it was settled. We kept the travel plans secret. In Medford, friendships spread from station to station when we're off the clock and he did not want any word getting out that we made special arrangements to travel to Bakersfield. My coworkers didn't know until Friday morning.

After half a day on the highway, I hit a major roadblock. Hotels were booked solid. It took nine hotels to find a place with a non-smoking, single room. I'm not complaining, I was just floored that they were so packed. I asked if there was a convention in town. They said, "Yes. A Jehovah's Witness convention."

I landed at the Travelodge which, serendipitously, was only a few blocks from the churches where services were being held. Thursday night consisted of testing out the equipment and setting up the Bakersfield Bureau.

Friday morning meant work. In the early afternoon I met Tabasha's mother, Gwen, and showed her video from the Medford candlelight vigil. She cried and she clapped. It brought tears and took away her words. She expressed her gratitude that 300 people, many who didn't know Tabasha showed up and showed their love. She says she wants to come to Medford and hug everyone. She says that's where she draws her strength.
At the end of my visit, Gwen threw her arms around me and squeezed tight. I felt the love.

A short while later, I was invited to the memorial viewing. I did not shoot or show any video of the five victims, but I did look for myself. I couldn't not look. They looked, as the family said, at peace. The kids' toys tucked next to their arms. Four caskets for the five family members. 2-year-old Aurora, "the princess of them all," was nestled up next to her mother. One remained closed.
At the end of the evening I talked with Jesse. He, as always, was gracious and thankful. As were other members of the family. They said hello and smiled. I was the only media person allowed in. I sent the exclusive story back to Medford for the 11.

Saturday morning was the funeral. But the family didn't call it a funeral, instead it's a "home-going," Tabasha and the kids were heading to the place where there was no stress, hurt, or pain. The memorial was in a beautiful Baptist church, draped in purple. It was a Baptist celebration-- there was some mourning, but twice as much singing, shouting, praising, and celebrating.
That isn't to say that there were no sad moments. I was chilled when Evelyn, Tabasha's great-aunt, spoke about the home life of her great-niece. I was touched when the five obituaries were read and each ended with a phrase like "passed away with her sons and daughter." As if they are going on a trip somewhere. Together. That was the quiet, understated mood of the service.

Later, at the burial, I spoke with four of Tabasha's siblings at the same time. It was the first time in the two weeks of covering the story that I saw a difference of opinion in their feelings toward Jordan, the husband and father, who police have, in the past 24 hours, arrested as a murder suspect. Some were angry. Some forgave.

I said goodbye to some of the family members, but knew I'd see them again when they came to Medford.

I turned two different versions of the story. One for 6pm and another for 11pm. I prefer the earlier, but I'm very proud of both.

-- -- --

It was a relief to cover these stories. A form of counseling and closure.

Reporters are expected (read: stereotyped) to be emotionally detached from their stories. We are thought to run after the families of victims hoping for (read: prying for) a soundbite or (please!) a tearful breakdown.

Reality: Sometimes we're the ones who are close to a breakdown. It's hard for me to not be involved in a story. I'm certainly involved in this one.

In the movies, you see detectives or reporters who have some story or case that sticks with them. They can't seem to shake it. This might be that story for me. I'm thinking about Jesse, his religious beliefs, the strength he and his family have shown, and what the community outpouring has demonstrated and how it has affected everyone.

This is an important story for me. I know I'll be continuing to cover it in the future.
And I look forward to it.

-- -- --

In Medford, I have my own desk with script writing software, share computers for editing, and an audio booth for recording narration.

In Bakersfield, I had a laptop and a hotel room desk. I edited on the station's computer and used my own for script writing. I had a mic for recording audio, but had to make some adjustments. If I just spoke in the room, it would sound echo-y. So I draped a towel over my head and the mic to muffle everything.

The glorious life of television. (Sarcasm, yes. But I actually love it.)

-- -- --

I was in Bako for business, but on the last evening I found friendship. The reporter from the NBC station and I were chatting and she invited me out for sushi with her, her coworkers, and friends that evening. We went out, ate, and went to a lounge and had drinks there too. They were all great, fun people. The next morning I got coffee with another NBC reporter. We got along great and I think I've got a good friend there.

KGET 17's Victoria, Kevin, and Paige. Bakersfield Buddies.

TV News is like a fraternity. You work in a market and your friends end up moving across the country, but your relationships never really go cold. As the saying goes, "it's not what you know, but who you know." So the network grows. I was welcomed with open arms in Bakersfield and will do all I can if we host TV folks in the Rogue Valley.

-- -- --

It was also a time for family. I met with Kevin in Sacramento and lunch with him on the drive down Thursday and drive up Sunday.

"I look like I'm scared." -Kevin

-- -- --

A long drive wouldn't be complete with a handful of pitstops to take pictures.

Cooling off at Lake Shasta

Thursday Sunset on SR 58

Sunday sunset in Redding

-- -- --

This was a fantastic opportunity to cover a beautifully tragic story. It will be something I remember for the rest of my life. For many reasons.


  1. This is one of your best blogs. I look forward to future stories about this family and the good that will come out of this tragedy.

  2. Loved this blog! There is so much emotion from you. Such a sad story and like your mother I look forward to future stories.
    Love Aunt Sandra

  3. Wow, thank you for sharing, B! I definitely teared up reading this and thinking about all of it. You are amazing and I am so proud of you!

  4. I enjoyed reading this blog, looking foward to you next post and If you are indeed coming to Bakersfield, I would guess a trip to Pioneer Village. USA visa grants the holder the right to apply for entry into the United States. The Kern County Museum has done a nice job of preserving many of the old buildings of Kern County and putting them in a village style setting.