Published: Nov 10, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Nov 10, 2012 04:29 PM
You can now read and comment on more local news from Orange and Durham counties on my Facebook page. (Friend me at on.fb.me/Tgr3Tr
Our initial story on UNC freshman David Shannon’s death last month got some of you talking. Some questioned our reporting that police were looking into possible hazing preceding the fatal fall.
After consulting with assistant metro editor Richard Stradling, I decided to include what Carrboro Police Lt. Chris Atack had told staff writer Jane Stancil – that hazing was one possibility they were investigating – and to follow up if they later said otherwise. Here are two paragraphs from the initial 18-paragraph story. (emphasis added) Witnesses told police Shannon was seen drinking alcohol Friday night and early Saturday morning, Atack said. He may have been alone at the plant and appears to have fallen from the machine to the concrete surface below, he said. Alcohol could have been involved, he said. Police are also investigating weekend activities and possible hazing at the Chi Phi fraternity, where Shannon pledged, Atack said. An official cause of death won’t be released until the state medical examiner’s office in Chapel Hill completes an autopsy, he said.
The day our story ran, police released a follow-up statement that said although they were pursuing the possibility of hazing they had no evidence of it yet. We wrote a second story reporting that.
It’s a tough call reporting information that may offend some and seem premature to others. I used to work with a terrific crime reporter, Julia White (now Buckner), who said we should always tell readers everything we know because you never know what piece of information may prove helpful. In the end we decided to let our story tell what police had told us and let you decide its significance.
Here’s what some of you said on Facebook: Debbie Crane:
You are obligated to report on what the police, who are public officials, are saying. On the other hand, I question whether the police should have raised this issue without any real evidence to suggest that it was the cause. When I taught crisis communication classes for public officials, my advice was to give all the facts – hold nothing factual back, but never speculate. Paul Bonner:
It’s certainly a natural question, given the circumstances. I gather the police were simply responding to it in the only way they could and hope the “clarification” it’s not an active theory is only that. Rene Delavarre:
The police and the paper did absolutely nothing wrong. You investigate all angles, because the circumstances surrounding the death are strange. Who climbs on machinery in the wee hours of the morning? Gregg Jarvies
(former Chapel Hill police chief): It’s certainly a legitimate question for Jane to ask as a part of her investigation. However, if the basis for her question was to eliminate one of many possible explanations for the death, rather than based on some piece of evidence or witness testimony about the young man’s behavior prior to his death, I do question why the headline mentioned hazing at all. (Editor’s note: The secondary headline in the N&O version of this story said police were probing alcohol use and possible hazing). There are certainly many other causes NOT related to his death. Why mention hazing? Mary Parker Sonis:
A sad end to such a promising life. His parents must be heartbroken.
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