While reporting on the killing of a married couple at a Boca Raton clothing store, Sentinel reporter Leon Fooksman contacted family members in Alabama.
For crime reporters, contacting people after they've heard devastating news about their loved ones is business as usual. But what happened to Fooksman yesterday was far from routine. While reporting on the deaths of James and Sandra Mayer, both 62, he got their daughter-in-law Brandy Meyer on the phone from Alabama. The problem: Brandy had no idea what was going on. Police had not yet notified the family of the deaths.
What does Fooksman do in that situation? Does he tell her of the deaths? Does he politely excuse himself and hang up the phone?
"I just told the family what I knew which was that police were at the couple's store all day and that police didn't provide the media with much information," Fooksman explained in an e-mail. "I asked the family in Alabama if they knew anything. They didn't."
Now you can only imagine how troubling that first phone call must have been for the Mayer family. "Frantic" and "terrifying" are two words that comes to mind. And I've been told that Boca police are angry as hell that Fooksman beat them to the punch.
Fooksman wound up including a quote from Brandy Mayer in his story today.
"Before I hung up with them, I ask them about the couple and what they were like," Fooksman wrote the Pulp. "The information was consistent with what the couple's customers in Boca Raton and friends in West Boynton were saying. So I went with it. When I called the family in Alabama back shortly after the cops notified them, they no longer wanted to talk."
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There are two schools of thought here:
1. Fooksman was out of line. When the police refused to release the names of the victims because they hadn't yet notified next-of-kin, he should have waited until police gave the go-ahead before he contacted relatives.
2. Fooksman proved only that he's a good reporter and this one is the fault of police. In a high-profile crime, it's the police department's job to notify kin as soon as possible. And it doesn't help that P.D.'s are notorious for stringing along reporters by claiming that they haven't notified kin even when they have.
Where do you stand?