An elderly man's apartment is apparently broken into. Somehow or another, he ends up dead. Other apartment dwellers come to see what has happened and find him and a bloody scene. They say they see a figure running away from the property. And so begins an investigation into how the man died.
Such is the story of an incident this week (March 24, 2010) on Ann Street in downtown Parkersburg.
But this one had a twist. The victim was on the West Virginia State Police website as a registered sex offender. WTAP News learned about that and went to the website to gather information and a photograph of the deceased. The Parkersburg Police Department acknowledged that this was indeed the victim.
So the question then became: to what extent ought we share that information with our viewers and visitors to wtap.com? Did his past have anything to do with his death? Would it be appropriate to share this information as we told the story about his killing?
In an earlier time, the news media might have elected not to share those details until such a time as it became established that his past may have been a factor in his death. But with the presence of his name, his face, his current address and his background on an official website operated by the West Virginia State Police to help protect and inform the public, how could we not mention it? It was already out there for the world to see.
If a person who goes about his business in a manner that does not attract public or police attention, would have suffered the same fate, that person's background - where he worked, what his hobbies were, who his family members were - would be of interest and would probably be published in his obituary. But when a person is well-known - in a good way or a bad way - leaving out information about what led to that fame or infamy, would be a dis-service to the public.
A man was killed by a person, as yet unknown. To know that there is a person out there, capable of killing an elderly and infirmed person inside his own home, is shocking to the community. What the motives for the killing were or the circumstances that led to it, we will hopefully learn in the days and weeks to come.
Until then, we will make sure to stick just to the facts and not engage in speculation about who did it or why this occurred.