Friday, May 16, 2014
BOB GARFIELD: On April 13th at a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kansas, a deranged white supremacist shot and killed 69-year-old retired physician William Lewis Corporon and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Underwood. He also killed another woman, Terri LaManno, at a nearby Jewish assisted living center. For the media, it was an enticing tragedy to cover, a brutal hate crime in the heartland, with sympathetic victims and a bigoted madman. The race was on to find out more about those victims, a process that, in many cases, puts extra strain on families already dealing with tragedy. But the Corporon family avoided the worst of the media onslaught by immediately providing detailed information about the victims, complete with back stories and photos. That information was furnished by the late Dr. Corporon’s son, Will, a former TV journalist who acted quickly to make sure his family’s story was told with accuracy and respect. Corporon was at home in Northwest Arkansas, getting ready to drive to Kansas City when the media blitz began.
WILL CORPORON: While we’re packing, I turned on one of the cable news channels and saw a news conference that was being held by the Overland Park Police Department.
POLICE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: The initial call came in to our dispatch center at 1:03 pm…
[SOUND UP & UNDER]
WILL CORPORON: - - which is a very surreal experience, when you know – the unnamed victims are your father and nephew.
POLICE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: There was one immediate fatality at that location, and this was in the back of the Jewish community center, and then there was a second person in that same area, probably in the same car who, who succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.
WILL CORPORON: One of my family members told me that the hospital public relations person was putting together a news release. She is actually fielding all these inquiries from media organizations, and so I spoke with her by phone. She made a comment that perhaps we should just let the police release the names of my father and nephew sometime the next day or the following day, Monday or Tuesday. I immediately texted my brother and sister; a switch had just got off in my head. I, I had gone from being - just sitting there in my own misery to all of a sudden now I had a job to do. And I, I told my sister and brother, we gotta – we’ve got to get in front of this.
BOB GARFIELD: Because, as someone who worked in the news business for years, you understood that while the hospital was trying to protect your privacy, by being so spare with details it was actually endangering your privacy. How did you do that calculus? What did you know would happen next?
WILL CORPORON: I knew that, you know, the media would find out the information they wanted to find out anyway. I did not want anybody showing up on my mom’s door with a camera, asking the, you know, how do you feel. I did not want that happening to my sister. And I did not want the first picture of my dad to be released by the media as his driver’s license photo. So, you know, we needed to start telling the story.
BOB GARFIELD: So how did you proceed?
WILL CORPORON: I started adding personal touches to the news release, and the hospital sent me all the email addresses from the, the media contacts. And I just did an email blast from the front seat of the Ford Expedition. My mother and brother and sister had sent me, I think, three or four pictures, cropped those pictures and emailed them from the front seat of the car.
BOB GARFIELD: Among the things you were determined to do was not let the focus be on the shooter, but rather on your family. And I guess to succeed in that, the more information that you could provide, the better.
WILL CORPORON: One of the things that happened was totally unexpected, and I think it really jerked the wheel of the coverage, okay? Sunday night, within hours of the death of my father and my nephew, my sister went to an impromptu vigil at a church.
MINDY CORPORON: My name is Mindy Corporon, and I am the daughter of the gentleman who was killed, and I'm the mother of the son who was killed.
WILL CORPORON: She stood up there and poured her heart out.
MINDY CORPORON: And I want you to know that I came upon the scene very, very, quickly. I was there before the police, and I was there before the ambulance, and I knew immediately that they were in heaven –
WILL CORPORON: So I have no doubt that once people saw that in newsrooms around the country, like wow, we want that. I mean, I really think that that steered coverage in our direction.
BOB GARFIELD: One aspect of this was your ability to be quite open about your family's faith, and without being turned into some sort of caricature. First of all, did you fear that the press was going to be dismissive about that?
WILL CORPORON: I have certainly seen people, when they are speaking in religious terms, be, at least in my view, mocked or – and it may be less overt than that, but just not taken as seriously. Maybe that's the best way to put it. We didn't shy away from saying anything. We were just honest.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, talking of faith, has your experience restored your faith in journalists?
WILL CORPORON: I never lo – I’ve never lost faith in journalism. What this experience has done for me, it, it has given me hope, at least, that people can be treated well. Victims in these kinds of things can be treated well. I've always known that. Actually having experienced it from the other side, it is very nice to see.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Will, thank you very much.
WILL CORPORON: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Will Corporon, a former journalist, works in insurance and estate planning in Bella Vista, Arkansas.