About two years ago, I could be found every morning in the DeKalb Police Station, hunched over a stack of reports.
The press table stood right next to the window where people came in to pay tickets, bail others out and demand justice for crimes against them. Police business.
Few people ever took note of me, as I scribbled away into a notebook. Then one morning a woman asked me if I was a reporter. I said yes.
She then snorted with real effort and said, "You're probably thrilled when awful things happen. I bet you get real excited when you get to write about tragedy."
It takes a lot to offend me, but this woman succeeded in seconds.
"No," I said. "I live here, too. Down the street from the station. And I don't want anything bad to happen to anyone in this town or anywhere else. I'd rather never write stories like this again if it meant these things weren't happening anymore."
She snorted thickly again. I got the feeling she did that at least seven times a day.
There is no rush or thrill that comes from telling stories of tragic, cruel, unfair and sad turns of events. Trust me, I have seen enough to last a lifetime.
My second night on the job in DeKalb, I was at the scene of a murder-suicide where a man used a knife for the deed. A month later, a different man shot a woman and set his property on fire before turning the gun on himself. One year after I started in DeKalb, I stood in front of Cole Hall after six people died at the hands of a troubled man at Northern Illinois University.
And now, less than a month after Orland Park Patch went live, Anita "Jeanie" Kustok was killed. Allan, her husband of 34 years, is charged with murder and her children Zak and Sarah Kustok are now mourning her.
So what's the point in covering a tragedy?
If no articles were ever written about tragedies, the stories would still be told countless times. People have a tendency to exaggerate when retelling anything that's shocking. The story might be rather far from the truth when it finally slips off peoples' radars in favor of the next attention grabber.
It's our job to tell the truth. It's our job to separate rumors from what actually happened. It doesn't mean we're perfect or infallible, but we are dedicated to reporting what is real.
I now live here, and I still don't want to see anything bad happen to people.
But I made a commitment to tell the stories of Orland. If I only focus on the positive, then I am lying to all of you by omission. If we didn't write these stories, then we are acting like it never happened. I wouldn't trust a publication that glosses over unpleasant events like that. What else isn't covered?
There is another reason for covering tragedies. We can be inspired by the strength that comes out of people in dark times. Sometimes it takes a sad situation to remind us that our lives are fragile. There is not always a lesson to be found or an example to emulate when tribulations befall people. But when people respond to tragedy with resolve, it is unforgettable.
An outpouring of support was seen in DeKalb as early as one day after the shooting. People from Virginia Tech astounded us with their kindness, from a massive candlelight vigil to visitors from that campus coming to DeKalb. Some folks made large batches of cookies and gave them to students when classes resumed. We learned about a group of NIU students, called Huskies United, who drive to other schools in the country if they experience similar attacks, offering comfort and support.
On the day of the shooting, within the first hour, hundreds of emergency responders from all over the state came to our aid. An ATF agent was off duty, heard about the shooting on his radio and drove well out of his way to the campus, just in case, he later said.
Last week, Zak and Sarah Kustok stood before hundreds of people who were shocked and saddened over their mother's death, and comforted them. Before and after the ceremony, they were embracing and reassuring relatives and friends. The two then remembered their mother by offering advice, telling people to appreciate the time they had with her and to be kind and be giving as she would.
"She was truly an angel. There is no more perfect of a life you can live than what she did," Sarah Kustok said. "Think about that and maybe you can go give a smile. Give a hug. Go help somebody else. Remember that and carry that with you, and carry her with you. "
It takes an unprecedented amount of vision and strength, one week after such a daunting loss, to tell others they can honor Jeanie's passing by treating others well.
We are one month into Orland Park Patch. My team and I will not focus entirely on tragedy. We will print stories about passionate people doing important work in the area. We will not hesitate to point out good things when they happen. And they happen all the time.
Join us on the way. We are just getting started.