October 31, 2007

Connected. 

She reminded me that we are all connected. As I spoke to Amanda Goyer, a Tri-Delt from Rhodes College who had previously attended USC, we talked about the implications of social networking sites such as Facebook and how they bring students together. Regardless of interests, activities, favorite music, or political preference, we all experience life – and death.

As both a journalist and a student, the tragedy has taken a unique toll on my spirit. Which am I first, journalist or student?

If the past few days have taught me anything, it’s that my connection to the student body drives me to be a better journalist. I long to report the truth, the facts, the passion and the stories of my classmates.

I spoke with a close friend of one of the victims Monday afternoon. I dreaded the call. I gathered the phone numbers of all seven families, only with hopes of passing them on to someone else. After a few unanswered phones and polite “no comments,” all handled by my editor, I finally decided to make a call of my own.

She answered the phone. I heard the uneasiness in her voice, yet understanding of why I had dialed. 

“Here, I’ll let you speak with his best friend,” she said.

I graciously waited as the phone was passed from one mourner to another. 

“Hello?”

His voice was shaky. I took a deep breath.

“Hey, my name is Brad Maxwell; I’m a student reporter for The Daily Gamecock. I understand you’re going through a lot right now. I was just wondering if you could tell me a little about Travis, what you remember most about him. We just want the student body to remember the kind of guy he was.” 

The first thing RJ Snyder said, “He had the biggest heart. You can’t really explain it.”

My heart sunk. Although I couldn’t see him, I knew he was crying. The rest of the phone call was difficult, as I began to see a glimpse of just how much RJ was going to miss his friend, his brother. 

I, myself, choked up. The call ended and I sat there silently. My editor was there to console me, and all I could do was lean my head down and shed a few tears.

We are all connected. Greek and non-Greek, Clemson and USC, black and white, you name it.

We belong to a Gamecock Nation, a Tiger Nation, a Hokie Nation. 

“All we can do is support each other,” Goyer said.

I didn’t know any of the seven. I don’t recall ever crossing their paths until this weekend. But we are all connected. We are here to lean on one another and support each other as fellow students and human beings. We have met tragedy before, and we will meet it again. But we must take comfort in and never forget we are all connected.

Brad Maxwell

Staff writer

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The hardest thing about death is the living

October 31, 2007

Now that the names have been released, I want to say that I can not imagine how poor Tripp Wylie is doing. I can’t imagine losing my closest friends and living through that or like that. I can’t fathom what he’s thinking or feeling.

Or Andrew Rhea, who was at the house himself and lost his younger brother William. Thinking about losing my brother in any way, never mind in such a devastating way, makes me physically sick. I thought I was going to throw up through the all of Monday’s press conference.

Emily Yelton’s sister lost her twin. Her mom was quoted in the Greenville News as saying she had lost half of herself. 

I’ve talked with friends who didn’t know the victims, and those who did. Everyone agrees on the fact that as a the loss of a sibling is the only thing close to losing a child—and even that is a distant second.

There’s really nothing that can be said to pay tribute or commemorate the lives of those lost. No words can capture the loss the schools, the families or the friends feel. There is nothing to express the horror of this tragedy. 

My grandmother has said many times over the years, “The hardest thing about death is the living.” My thoughts and prayers are with families and friends.

Katie Jones

Staff writer

Filling in the missing pieces

October 30, 2007

When you read our newspaper tomorrow, you will notice two things. Our front page will cover the grief of students mourning their friends. Our photographers try to maintain a strict balance between covering news and respecting those in pain.

You will also notice something missing: names. While many larger media outlets are releasing names of students involved in the fire, we have chosen not to.

There is no conspiracy. We operate independently of the university. Andrew Sorensen does not scare me. Student Media has not been hushed up. No one is censoring us.

We chose not to run names for a simple fact: accuracy. We would be doing our students a disservice if we did not personally call each family and confirm names. While we could always copy and paste from other stories, it is our duty as journalists to find out our own facts.

It is hard to call families for us, because unlike other outlets, we don’t have a 10-man team working for 8 hours on one story. We only have three or four students sporadically throughout the day. Even I had to go to class today for a presentation.

This information is widely available to those who seek it. Instead of trumpeting the fact that we know names, we will instead present profiles about these students from those closest to them.

If you would like to aid us in remembering their lives, please email me or call my office at 803.777.3914. More than likely I will be there all day, putting together the pieces.

Jackie Alexander

Editor in Chief

Editor’s Note

October 29, 2007

In this blog you will find the thoughts and raw emotions of staffers covering this event. Some students may allude to information not available. Any information we have confirmed will be posted on our Web site at dailygamecock.com.

Any tips can be directed to 803-777-7726 or to Jackie Alexander.

If you would like to write a blog, feel free to e-mail us at the above address.

Jackie Alexander

Editor in Chief

Frustration among sadness

October 29, 2007

Stephen Colbert is pretty much my hero. I was ELATED to see him this morning on the Horseshoe. Now, I can barely remember what he said. His appearance today seems too trivial when I think about the seven students who died in the fire.

It’s frustrating, infuriating even, to try and deal with this kind of tragedy for anyone. It’s frustrating to hear all the rumors that can’t be confirmed. It’s frustrating to know things that aren’t being released. And most of all, it’s frustrating to deal with death that is so unexpected and so tragic and so devastating such as the fire that claimed seven Gamecocks.

I began working on the story around 1:30 this afternoon. For the most part in consisted on contacting different people—media relations types here and in Ocean Isle Beach. Sadly, it also consisted of contacting people who were friends with people who died. That’s not the kind of news anyone likes to break. No one likes to call and ask “Have you heard anything about…” or “I understand this is a difficult time for you…”

I went to high school with some of the students who died in the fire. It’s difficult to remain detached from a story like this, one that affects so many people in such a sad way. It’s difficult think things like “the cause of the fire is unknown” and “the bodies are being identified” can apply to people you knew.

Katie Jones
Staff Writer

We never saw this coming

October 29, 2007

The worst things in life are never planned. Tragedies blindside you when you least expect it, which is what happened to the USC community over the house fire in North Carolina this past weekend.

I first heard about this story when I was driving back with a friend from Hilton Head Island, returning from my own beach weekend getaway. Around 1:00 p.m., the editor in chief, Jackie Alexander, called me to report about possible student deaths in a fire over the weekend.

As we drove across the state, we received more and more calls from friends and USC reporters with more information confirming the worst. As I rushed into the newsroom, I see a few dedicated co-workers trying to patch together enough information to get the story out to the public for tomorrow’s paper.

In the middle of the room, is a dry-erase board with tidbits of information and scattered names, covered in question marks.

Throughout the night, question marks are replaced by “deceased,” “unidentified,” “released” or any connection the student might have to anyone else. There are about three people writing stories about the fire and everyone is contributing whatever information they can.

News sources such as CNN an ABC are calling The Daily Gamecock for information, which is intimidating and exciting in itself.

At 7:30 p.m., a few reporters, myself included, head down for the second news conference of the night in the Russell House Ballroom. This one is headed by Andrew Sorensen who gives his condolences and what little new information he has. We rapidly write down any and every quote we can and head back up to the newsroom to compile the story.

For us nerdy journalism types, it is usually exciting to piece together a big story and to have more information than big news outlets. However, this is nothing but a somber and tragic experience.

These students were young, they had their whole lives ahead of them. They did what a great number of USC students do on a regular basis: pack up the car and head to the beach for the weekend. Tragically, it was not such a simple trip for this group.

Covering this story was stressful for everyone, but I have rarely heard the newsroom so quiet. Each fact contributed to the story means one more family member of friend is crushed.

While we work on our newspaper to get the facts out to everyone as quickly and accurately as possible, it is important to remember why we are doing this and to keep all those affected in our hearts.

We will update the stories as soon as we know any more information.

Liz Segrist
Metro Editor

What do you say when no words will do?

October 29, 2007

I was awakened by my cell phone at 12:30 p.m. from a nice Sunday nap. On the other end, a man I didn’t know from a place I had never been was telling me horrible news.

Students dead, possibly from USC.

My mind raced almost as fast as my body as I ran out of my door and called every news staffer I know.

In an hour, our newsroom became ground zero for a story we could never know the implications of. Managing Editor Michael Baumann and staff writers Katie Jones and Sean Gruber worked diligently, taking frantic orders and calling anyone we knew.

Then our phones started ringing. CNN. ABC. American Morning. AP. Good Morning America.

The calls wouldn’t stop coming. And neither would the questions.

As the rest of our staff filed in the shock of the event finally settled in. Staff members hugged each other for support and we held a small prayer circle in my office. More than one of us, including myself, shed tears.

Please know that we don’t mean to pry. We are all mourning. We are trying to tell their stories. The stories of friends, roommates, girlfriends lost in the prime of our lives.  Our job isn’t to speculate or hurt families.

Our job is to tell stories to the world.

Jackie Alexander

Editor in Chief