Saturday, June 21, 2008

a Little Shaken Up

Bad news travels fast, they say. That's how it worked out that it took me a year to find out my old classmate Kelcey Fike had moved out to Nebraska, and only about a day to find out she was dead.

Murdered, actually, is what they're saying now. Authorities arrived early Tuesday morning and found her home on fire, and so for a couple days they allowed the story to persist that it was an accidental death. But in a press conference on Thursday, the Kearney Police said that's not so much the case. Apparently, autopsy results show the cause of death to have been something else entirely.

Of course, the police are playing it tight-lipped with the details. Quite honestly, they haven't said shit, and for Kelcey's friends back here in Wisconsin, it's maddening.

A couple of months ago, I invested a good deal of effort in lambasting the Madison Police Department for their reprehensible lack of transparency in the unsolved murders of Kelly Nolan, Joel Marino and Brittany Zimmermann. In fact, this Monday will mark a year since Kelly Nolan was last seen in the State Street area before turning up dead in a swamp south of Madison weeks later, and her immediate family -- the people she lived with and loved -- still don't even know how she died.

A lot of people pointed out -- and fairly, might I add -- that as a member of the media, I'm inclined to take the approach of full disclosure. They maintain I think the police should release any pertinent detail, consequences be damned. I know that's not true. In fact, when I was working on a very high-profile murder case in Portage a year ago, I'm still very proud of the decisions I made with Jason Maddux, our editor, Ed Treleven, reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal, and WSJ state editor Phil Brinkman about which information was fit for publishing and which was simply titillating conjecture.

I also think the Portage Police Department was very professional and very fair in the manner they chose which information to release and which to repress, in that case. They're a goddamn bastion of "right-to-know" prowess when contrasted with Madison lately.

It's been my fear since I started in this line of work I would end up on the other side of the reporter's notepad. A wise, albeit fictional, man once said to a doctor, "You ought to be shot. Or stabbed. Lose a leg. To be a surgeon, you know? Know what kind of pain you're dealing with. They make psychiatrists get psychoanalyzed before they can get certified. But they don't make a surgeon get cut on. That seem right to you?"

That was how I felt last night when I found out Kelcey had been murdered: numb like I'd been shot. We went to the same church, we sang in the same choir and, most notably, we dicked around in Mr. Bennett's eighth-hour Stagecraft class together -- the source of my most vivid Kelcey Fike memories. And then when I graduated, she became one of those people I always wished I had kept in better touch with.

It seems very distant now, and I don't think I had talked to her since I graduated high school five years ago, excepting a few Facebook wall posts. Her death, for me, is just a taste of the kind of pain I document in other people as a reporter. I'm incredibly unsettled, distracted even. I'm a little scared, a little vulnerable, a little wistful. But mostly, I want answers, and quite honestly I want to see the person that did it to her flayed alive. I want to see them writhe in pain, terrified of death and overwhelmed with remorse for the heinous crime of snuffing out a life as vibrant as Kelcey's.

I've heard second-hand that Kelcey's brother, John, and her parents are in agony -- obviously. I can't do anything but wish them the best and hope there are quick answers to the questions burning inside them.

It's the doubt that's the worst. I feel like I need answers before I can accept this as the actual truth. Right now, it seems too surreal to be fact, and I can't see myself acknowledging it until I know much, much more about what happened. I can't see how people like the families of Kelly Nolan, Joel Marino and Brittany Zimmermann have made it this far with as few answers as they've gotten.

I'm sure of this: I'm glad I'm not working closely with this story as a reporter. The authorities in Kearney, Nebraska had better think long and hard about how they approach the information surrounding Kelcey's death this weekend, because there are a lot of people just hanging, waiting for answers.

I wouldn't be able to handle working on this story. I watched the video (link above) of the press conference in Kearney, and if I had been there, I would have been hard-pressed NOT to knock that smug facade off Police Chief Dan Lynch's face. I'm not a patient person, nor do I have much stomach for the standard "we're not going to talk about" it bullshit. I would have had to excuse myself from the room or face officer assault charges for grabbing that bungler about the throat and screaming "She's not just another body, you pig!" into his face.

Lynch told reporters, "We have several suspects...we're trying to work it down." Hopefully that means they'll have someone in custody shortly, and they'll be able to answer more questions. In the meantime, I hope Kelcey's laughing somewhere at what a fuss all of us are making over this whole thing.

I did spend a half hour this afternoon digging through an old box of photos I have. I was sure I had a good one of Kelcey in there somewhere, something I had taken in Stagecraft my senior year in high school. As I flipped through dozens of photos, my stomach dropped through the floor with dread as I found pictures from that class. I knew I was coming up on it.

Then, suddenly, there she was, standing among a saw-dusty set shop in jeans and workboots. The lighting in that back room was terrible, and as a result, the camera's flash lit her up brighter than everything else. She looks vital, very much alive, and her smile jumps right off the polyethylene.

I had to show it to Clinton, my roommate and best buddy, who was closer to her than I was. He nodded slowly. "That's a nice picture," was all he said.


Anonymous said...

Do you find comfort in lambasting KPD for not being able to provide you with the answers we are all searching for?
We are a rural community still reeling in shock from the reality of what we first thought to be a tragic accident and now know to be so much more.
Our prayers are for the loved ones left to grieve and for answers to be revealed.
The solution to these tragedies does not lie in processing procedures of a particular police department, the solution must come from the preventative measures we as a society must institute to ensure better safety for all. Of course, to be successful, that action would require working together.
Are you part of the solution or the problem?

Anonymous said...

I feel that it must be accepted that to many problems there are not simple solutions. Society as a whole is the problem. The fact that random acts of violence have increased at an alarming rate over the last 50 years (or at least the reported ones have) is something that cannot be ignored. The police departments exist to maintain order (an order that is far from being maintained) and I feel that there is a very good point in this blog. Sometimes the police are far too closed lipped about facts that could help families to heal--especially when the departments in many cases never solve the crime anyway. Perhaps it is healing that we need in this society, healing and more love. But without any sort of closure all the secrets breed is hate and anger.