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Aurora theater shooting: Is local media ignoring victims and their families?

Members of eleven families with a loved one who died in the Aurora theater shooting gathered yesterday to criticize Governor John Hickenlooper and a nonprofit in charge of donations, claiming they've been left out of the process.

Some of them also had complaints about another group: the local media.

The lengthy press conference marked the first time nearly all families of the twelve murder victims gathered in one place for a public appearance. Twenty people shared their thoughts and their grief with dozens of reporters at the Summit Convention and Conference Center in Aurora.

Eirz Scott, mother of Jarell Brooks, who was shot in the Aurora theater.
Eirz Scott, mother of Jarell Brooks, who was shot in the Aurora theater.
Sam Levin

At one point during the Q&A session -- which included a wide range of topics beyond complaints about donations -- a reporter asked the families if they were upset that the media seems to have focused on shooter James Holmes and not the victims.

"With all the shootings...that have happened in this country...we still are only hearing about the shooter," the reporter said in her question, prompting some "Amens" and "thank yous" from the family members.

"Honestly, that's the next quest," said Tom Teves, father of victim Alex Teves, who was leading the press conference.

"I wanted to ask you how you felt about that -- we haven't been hearing about the victims' families at all, maybe because you've been told not to talk? But can you maybe talk about how that must feel?" the reporter asked.

"I can speak on behalf of my family," responded Eirz Scott, the mother of Jarell Brooks, nineteen, who was shot in the leg; she'd earlier spoken about the financial and emotional struggles associated with his recovery. "My son Jarell has been on national news. It has been national news who has paid any attention to him whatsoever. I can tell you there probably was one local news network -- well, maybe two -- and it was just...there's not a lot of local attention that has come to us, and I think that's probably why people haven't heard a lot."

She continued, "Because the local news has not really contacted the families. I have no idea how ABC national news found our information. It's been over a month and it's just kind of been an afterthought."

The same reporter pushed again, asking for response to her assertion that the "victims' names have been forgotten" but we continue to hear the name of the shooter.

"I think that's a different conversation. I would be thrilled to have that conversation with you," interjected Scott. "I'd like us to stay on task... You can quote me. You'll get lots of information from me, but that's not today's conversation."

Here's the video of Jarell Brooks on ABC, explaining how he helped a mother in the theater to safety:

Continue to read more about local media and Aurora theater shooting families.

 

Soon after the shooting, debates arose about using the shooter's name and how the media divides its attention between the suspect, the victims and grieving families -- with some, including our readers , criticizing news outlets for giving James Holmes the fame they believe he wanted.

At the news conference yesterday, the local media was well-represented, and so was frustration among the families around the news coverage in general -- even though, as we've noted, "It's not a journalist's job to make value judgments on the news, but to report it, no matter how unpleasant."

Asked later in the conference about how they have been coping, Amanda Medek, sister of Micayla Medek, who died in the shooting, told reporters that there hasn't been time to process her loss. She added that news coverage of the shooter just makes the whole process more painful.

"We don't want to say his name. We don't want him in the media. We don't want any kind of remembering of him right now," she said. "We just want to grieve."

Melisa Cowden, the mother of four children left behind by the death of Gordon Cowden, told Westword after the news conference that she was frustrated by the recent in-depth New York Times story on James Holmes, a more than 3,000-word piece focused on the shooter and his history of mental illness.

Melisa Cowden, speaking to reporters.
Melisa Cowden, speaking to reporters.
Sam Levin

"The New York Times did an article on him...talking about what he was doing before all of this and what his future goals were, and...it's totally irrelevant to this whole situation," she said. "What's relevant to this situation is what my kids' future goals are, and what they were doing before this, and the impact it has on them, not on him."

She adds, "It's just time...to have my children have the opportunity to heal."

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "James Holmes case: Why the delay in ruling about CU educational records?"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.


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