Special Comment: Regarding My Recent Coverage of a Local Girl’s Suicide

I’ve been writing some version of Tacoma Stories since 2006. In those years, I’ve learned quite a bit and come up with a style that works for the site. I report the facts.  Then I report what I think of those facts. My article about the young girl who jumped off the South 48th Street overpass has been viewed almost 300,000 times by people in over 130 countries. It has resulted in dozens if not hundreds of other articles including one in the Washington Post. Yesterday a radio station from San Diego called me to talk about it.

Our local media however has been fairly quiet. During the weekend after I wrote the article I was contacted by three TV reporters and a newspaper reporter from The News Tribune. I talked to the News Tribune reporter on the phone. She wanted to know what I knew, wanted a link to the shaming video, and for me to pass along her contact information to my sources.

Yesterday, nine days after the incident, The News Tribune came out with its firstsubstantial piece on the young girl’s death. It included new information such as the fact that the girl left behind suicide notes. But it said she wrote them on an iPod which made no sense because iPods are for listening to music. It said that the trouble started on May 3rd when the girl sent a photo of herself to a boy which resulted in her father cutting her hair as a punishment two days before she jumped, but doesn’t explain the three weeks between those two incidents. So I thought better of adding another update to the original article because their information didn’t make a lot of sense.

Today The News Tribune came out with an unsigned editorial attacking the online coverage of this girl’s death and defending their near silence. It accuses us of spreading rumors as facts and attempting to publicly shame the victim’s family. I cannot speak for other websites or their coverage but given the sheer volume of traffic and the number of sites linking to mine about this, I feel these untrue accusations demand a response.

One of the primary purposes of Tacoma Stories is to put the victim and the victim’s family first because traditional media tends to lead with the killers rather than giving a thought to the victim or the victim’s family. This is why in the case of the young girl who jumped off the bridge I felt it was appropriate to not mention her or her family’s names. This is where the accusation that we’re publicly shaming the father falls flat. You can’t publicly shame someone you refuse to name.

As for the accusation that I’m spreading rumors as fact. This is also absolutely untrue. I said that a public shaming of the victim made by the victim’s father was released online, that days later she jumped from her grandparents’ car, and jumped off the S. 48th Street overpass. Not one of those facts are in dispute. After that I start talking about public shaming and its consequences and I point out this tragedy as an example.

The News Tribune has gone out of its way to say that the video had nothing whatsoever to do with the girl choosing to jump off the overpass. This is as much speculation as saying that the video was the sole reason for her choosing to jump. Tacoma Stories makes neither assertion. I believe that the video was a contributing factor and I’ve said so. I don’t believe that the father or the family wanted the victim harmed in any way. These are my opinions on the matter.

I also believe that the family of the victim is going through something unimaginable and deserve privacy during a time I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Of course they shouldn’t be publicly shamed. This is why I never named them. It’s also why I took down offending comments and closed the comments section of the original post when the family asked me to do so.

To be clear, I do agree with the News Tribune that some coverage of this story has been reprehensible and deserving of criticism. Though I would argue that lack of coverage is worth criticizing as well.

Traditional media has spent years trying to understand the online world and how to monetize it. They scoff at bloggers and other ‘citizen journalists’ who write because we have an interest and a passion in something. And yet we’re among the first people they contact when they’re looking for a source.

– Jack Cameron

Update 06/14/15: The News Tribune has posted yet another editorial about this. I’ve decided that it’s inappropriate to continue to respond to the local paper’s accusations on this page. For my response, go to the TacomaStories Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/tacomastoriesofficial

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50 responses to “Special Comment: Regarding My Recent Coverage of a Local Girl’s Suicide

  1. Come on man, your headline reads “Public Shaming Leads to Young Girl’s Suicide”. Regardless of your intent, your headline leads anyone to believe that step B was a result of Step A. Your story went global without all the facts being presented.
    While I think the issue of public shaming is something that should be addressed, you’ve inadvertently made this family the poster child when the father didn’t publicly shame. We are all not saints, and everybody has a struggle, but this man is being unfairly judged now.

    I think it would be more respectful to write an apology instead of a defense.

    • I take your point, but I respectfully disagree. It’s hard to make a family a poster child for something if I refuse to name them and I can’t be held responsible for how other sites respond to my article and so apologizing for the actions of others seems disingenuous.

      • You also were not monitoring your comments section. When her name was being thrown around. It took other people reading YOUR comments section, for you to realize her name was being used. And if I am not mistaken, you have to approve the messages before they are posted. So, you knew people were being named.

      • I do approve comments. And by the time people were naming her in my comments section her name was being used by many other sites. There were comments naming other family members and talking about where she lived that I never allowed on the page. The comments I took down at the request of family members were ones that were demanding the father be charged with a crime.

      • What a cop-out. Sure if I say “… a large software developer in redmond” and whine about their awful h1b practices, you still know it’s Microsoft. You can play games all you want with “I never named them.”

        You did not “name” them, you described who you meant. You stated the shaming caused the suicide before there was any evidence to back up what we were all ASSuming at the time. Own it; You wrote it. We all know you wrote it. We were all thinking it. You can back-pedal all you like, but you overstated.

      • You’re welcome to disagree and shame me for supposedly shaming someone who shamed someone, but I will respectfully disagree with you.

    • Honestly, it isn’t like the girl jumped because she was happy with life. Would you say having her hair cut off in a public video, would have at least been a large source of stress in her life? If not, can anyone else reading this keep a straight face as he lies in the comments, because ANYONE would be stressed at least a bit more than most other actions by these actions in particular. Anything that could have topped what that did to distraught her, would probably be illegal for the father to do. Which only raises the question “Did she jump because of the public shaming or because even worse things were done to her behind closed doors”?

  2. One of the areas, I was not clear, did the father post the video or was it someone else who actually posted the video? Cutting the hair was a huge mistake to do to any teenage girl and I want to believe that he wishes he could go back in time and make a different choice. Was it the video that was the “public shaming” or the cutting of the hair?

    • The most recent statements from the police say that it was a third party or possibly the victim herself who posted the video online. It’s my understanding that the father took the video and gave it to the victim to remind her to behave.

  3. “But it said she wrote them on an iPod which made no sense because iPods are for listening to music”

    Wow. The ipod classic was discontinued last year. http://www.cnet.com/news/apple-says-goodbye-to-the-ipod-classic/

    Nowadays, ipod generally means ipod touch, ipod nano, or ipod shuffle. The nano is multi-touch but not meant for apps. The shuffle has no screen. The ipod touch however is an iPhone without the cell phone. For years, they’ve had all the same apps and full access to email, internet and social media. It’s not uncommon for children to have an ipod touch instead of a more expensive iPad or iPhone. A friend may have given or lent her an old one.

    As for the unsigned editorial, you are acting like it’s targeted solely at you when it clearly isn’t. If you look at other online discussion, you’ll find that many of their accusations against other online sites are true. You can still look at the rest of internet without speaking for other sites. If you bothered to look, you’d surely find some sites worhy of the condemnation.

    • Thanks for the iPod info. Truth be told I’m not an Apple guy. As for thinking the editorial was solely directed at me, I address that in my article. I even mention that I agree that some of the reporting is fully worthy of condemnation. I received both comments and emails pointing me to this editorial. So I can’t pretend the News Tribune was excluding my coverage.

      • Yes, you mentioned that some of the other coverage is a problem, but you call their accusations untrue twice and then only defending your personal record. That declaration of untrue is only fair to the degree that the accusations are focused on you. They didn’t declare that your coverage was the target of the editorial, so I disagree with your word choice being so absolute. I see what you’re saying as you discuss further in later paragraphs. Sorry if this comes across as nitpicking, but I think it would be better if each declaration of fact you make could stand as accurate on it’s own (probably at the paragraph level) without requiring the context of the entire piece to limit it’s scope.

        You said “This is where the accusation that we’re publicly shaming the father falls flat.”

        Other online coverage does name her or her family’s names, so why do you say “we’re” instead of “I’m” when your rebuttal only covers you and other that took the same stance to leave names out?

        To be clear, I just think that a few tweaks would help improve clarity, hopefully without cramping your writing style. That doesn’t I think much of the criticism flying around applies to you and your coverage.

      • I agree. Your points are well founded. Thanks for the feedback.

  4. Your whole article was aimed at placing the blame on the father. Even with your choice of words: “she appears to be afraid”…”A taunting male voice says”. You were publicly shaming the dad. You keep saying you didn’t mention any names, but you know full well that it wasn’t necessary to name them as the names were already known.

      • aisha battle

        Regardless of how they spin it..I agree it played a role for sure. .and if they felt it should have been covered differently then they should have covered story sooner.. I am sure the father is going through hell but if she didn’t jump and you wrote no statement, in regards to the video..I would still think that act of videotaping cutting your daughters hair so ” “she” can watch …disturbing!

  5. You are right, mr Cameron. The News tribune made a mess of it. First by not reporting anything on it, and then reporting so onesidedly that they seem to be blaming Izabel for the whole thing. It is misunderstood decency I think. And indeed, suicide should not be shoveled under the carpet and openly talked about. Certainly in this case, where so many parents can learn something about the effects of public shaming.

  6. Before social media my own mother believed in public shaming and it was such a hurtful way to grow up to be beaten yelled at and called all types of names in front of others until later in life you feel you deserve it.
    If I can impart anything to children’s caregivers it that they are children and they will make mistakes. Your part is to guide them, teach them, scold them, discipline them but always let them know and show them that you love them.

  7. Justine Boltov

    Children in this age group are fragile. The cruel act of cutting off this child’s hair is shocking, even without the video. Isn’t that obvious? Why defend a sadistic father who would do such a thing to his daughter?

  8. I thought your original article was moving. Also, when I viewed the video, I too felt the father’s voice was ‘taunting’. I am sure the father is grief stricken but I honestly don’t feel too badly if he feels a little shame mixed in with his grief. That girl was assaulted imo. Your hair and your body are not the property of your parents. They are your own and parents are to protect us in all ways, including protecting our bodies.

  9. Concerned Psychologist

    I’ve been following this case since the start and thought your original article was right on target! News media here locally has virtually been silent, aside from a tiny blurb in the Tacoma News Tribune on May 30th the day after her suicide. What’s concerning is the comment section from that article was deleted later that day on the 30th, which consisted of comments from neighbors and friends of the girl speaking up, sharing other wretched means of punishment this father engaged in. As my sister read the comments to me on the phone that morning, my first response was “What the hell is CPS doing?” and “why didn’t these neighbors and friends report this?” I initially suspected the comments were removed because they were evidence for the Tacoma Police Department, and quite frankly, I am shocked and appalled at how this is all turning out, as this is taking a shocking twist! A 13 year old committed suicide via one of the most violet ways possible. This is not something that just occurs as a result of a couple of bad days in school. In these alleged 8 suicide notes she supposedly left, it mentions she felt she had “shamed her family” and that was why she took her life. What?! Shame is something that is taught, for starters, and second, the way she committed suicide is not consistent with someone who plans it and has the capacity to write 8 notes. This story is becoming soooo distorted, and the investigation and school’s response, in addition to the lack of media coverage here locally is embarrassing this community. Nothing has been mentioned about the other kids in the home, and meanwhile this father is taking the large sum of money he made from his GoFundMe account, and rumors are he’s moving out of state very soon. That’s quite convenient for him, since no charges have been filed, and does not look like they are going to be filed. What I also find suspicious and very concerning is that NONE of her friends or the neighbors that live near this family are speaking up. Globally, people are not buying this, as this does look like people are trying to cover their asses now. In the meanwhile, a 13 year old girl is dead, and if this father thought cutting her hair off was OK, what the hell else was going on behind closed doors is the haunting thoughts that keep going through my mind. What about him cutting her clothes, smashing her guitar, and making her step down from running as ASB president? The original stories from people who knew this girl were that she cried all day in school that last day. And when she jumped, witnesses originally said she ran to the fence and jumped without hesitation. Again, not consistent with a planned suicide. And what about the reports of the principle making an announcement to the whole school that day that her father forced her to step down from running as ASB president? All of a sudden all of these facts, along with the public shaming video, seem to be forgotten. And quite frankly, whether there was a video or not, cutting a teenage girl’s hair then sending her to school in boys clothes is beyond extreme…it is abuse. Just a few thoughts from a concerned psychologist, as I’ve seen charges come against people and CPS take kids away for much more minor things that this, yet nothing is being done in this case legally against this father?! Baffling, to say the least!

    • Concerned Psychologist

      Moreover, now the story is twisting towards scrutinizing the person who posted the video on youtube? Let’s not forget the original video was posted on Instagram, and according to the News Tribune and reports now coming out this week, they’re saying Izabel uploaded it? Well if Izabel uploaded it the day of her death, then who deleted it later that night? It couldn’t have been her because she was in the hospital that night and died. In the meantime, comments were deleted from that initial News Tribune article with people speaking up with other allegations and forms of abuse from this father, including that video, and thank god somebody saved a copy of that video and later posted it. This whole case from the start has been shady and very fishy…And meanwhile there is a whole community grieving here, spanning globally now, and the message that is being sent is that “she made a bad choice.” This case could have been used to make effective social change, but instead the message being sent is that harsh forms of punishment are OK, and if your kid commits suicide as a result, nothing will be done. Bottom line, this girl was crying out for help and society failed her.

  10. I thought I was the only one who read the news tribune article and right away noticed things didn’t add up… M daughter is a student at Giradrone and had lunch with IZABEL that Friday , and a few days before that Friday had found her in the girls restroom crying in a stahl locked in . According to what she told my daughter her phone had been taken away from her the day her father picked her up from school early to take her home and cut her hair.. That Friday she still didn’t have her phone so how was she able to show anyone the video or upload it? Second my daughter helped her fix up her hair and it wasn’t even long enough to braid and was definitely above her shoulders. Counseling was offered but she told my daughter she refused counseling … Yet the tribune is saying she recieved those services.
    I just feel that the truth hasn’t surfaced yet … Unfortunately IZABEL doesn’t have a voice anymore and I think we owe it to her to keep diggin keep it alive … The truth will eventually surface… IZABEL talked to some close friend about abuse among other things according to my daughter who is also best friends with the same girl who is izabels best friend.

  11. There is a big difference between CONCERN and GOSSIP. Are you happy with how fast your article went viral? You started a malicious conversation all around the world at the expense of a grieving family. You took an already tragic situation and turned it into a scandal.

    • Angela, I didn’t print any gossip. I said nothing that wasn’t true. There was plenty of gossip going around before and after I wrote my initial article, but I didn’t print it. As for your question, I can’t say I’m ‘happy’. A little girl is dead. I would say that if my article or others results in more people talking about the dangers of public shaming and that saves another little girl’s life, then that’s a good thing.

  12. Concerned Psychologis

    Right on, Jack, you go! You are one of the only local media reporters who even talked about this story as it was unfolding while the local community was in shock trying to make sense out of all this, and watching and trusting that authorities would do something to prevent future cases like this from occurring. I suspect one of the many reasons this story went viral globally is exactly because news media locally did not report on it and “contain it,” or give people any sense of direction of what was going on. It left those locally not only in a state of shock, but utterly bewildered at how something this tragic could happen. Moreover, when it went global it also put pressure on local media, the school, and the police department to respond, as people began questioning what was being done and why no reports were coming out. Unfortunately, the recent news media reports that portray this as nothing but “social media gossip” that came out this week are now probably going to go global and viral as well, sadly resulting in reversing any positive messages about helping others who are suffering highly questionable forms of punishment that this case could have helped. This is tragically sending a message loud and clear that it is NOT OK to speak up via social media avenues, and its probably serving to also scare and silence those who do have further information about this case now that recent media has reduced and relegated this down to “gossip” without any facts. If I were a 13 year old kid who had further information I would be scared as hell to speak up now in light of recent media. So sad….

  13. Mr. Cameron, When you first reported this story, did you know the girl committed suicide because of the haircut and/or public shaming? And if so, how?

    • When I first reported the story here are the verified facts that I had.
      – A young girl had jumped off the S. 48th Street overpass on Friday afternoon.
      – Days before she jumped a video of the public shaming of this same girl was posted online.
      – The video was taken by her father.
      All three of these things are true. None of them are disputed. Motivations, thoughts, and opinions beyond that are speculation. So to answer your question, not only did I not know if the girl committed suicide because of the public shaming/haircut, I still don’t know that. What I know is the when I look at those three facts, I don’t think they’re entirely unrelated and I’ve said so. That’s it.

      • therearetwosidestoeverystory

        “So to answer your question, not only did I not know if the girl committed suicide because of the public shaming/haircut, I still don’t know that.”

        So then why was the title of your article

        “Public Shaming Leads to A Young Girl’s Suicide ”

        So people would click on the link? right?

      • The headline reflects what I feel happened. But if you want to shame me for supposedly shaming someone who shamed someone, you’re welcome to do so.

  14. Therearetwosidestoeverystory

    Not shaming you, just hoping you understand the damage that cannot be undone caused by your article that is based on “what you believed happened”. A family that does not deserve this kind of reputation will never forget what pain and suffering this has caused them.

    • I’ve been in contact with the family and complied with their requests. Whatever damage you want to attribute to me is something that I have no evidence is happening.

      Almost 300,000 thousand people have viewed the original article. Some of those people will think twice about public shaming and that’s worth something as well.

    • Colleen Hennessey

      I 100% agree. Just sickenin . And they removed her memorial on the bridge. So sad. The lies about this young lady are so far fetched that I Dont know who wod believe them. What are they trying to hide. Oh abd there family name really.. Who cares. Bullies.

  15. “Public Shaming May Have led to Young Girl’s Suicide”
    See that? It’s factual, it’s not tabloid,it wouldn’t put you in a bad light, and, I’m pretty sure you would still get your 15.

    I would still say that you’re no better than the Dad with the shaming business, though. Different method is all. Who knows what extra hurt and possible persecution (aka bullying) he’s going through, now.

    • You can try to compare the two if you like, but nothing I’ve done resulted in a young girl’s death.

    • That said, I agree with you on the title. I’ll change it.

      • Ha. 😛

      • Colleen Hennessey

        Why change it. That’d ridiculous. That’s what happened. Wtf is wrong with people. Thsts what happened.

      • Colleen’s response is exactly the point that many commenters have a problem with your framing of the facts in the original post. According to the Tacoma PD and the notes (from the aforementioned iPod), the issues behind this little girl’s despair MAY HAVE been with the suggestive photo she sent to a boy getting spread around – which was also the reason for the video in the first place.

        From the framing of the facts, the easiest interpretation for a reader appears to be that the video is what led to her tragically taking her own life and the entire conversation moves to parenting styles. I agree with you on the point that this is a very important topic, but this coverage has distracted from another more relevant discourse directly related to this tragedy – social media, teens and the consequences of that intersection.

        Colleen appears to be more focused on the facts as framed by your original article, rather than what has been reported from the Tacoma PD. If I am mistaken in this belief, Colleen, I sincerely apologize.

      • It is of minor importance wether it was the video or the selfie that finally drove Izabel to her death. They are both indicators that it was the EXCESSIVE SHAMING that made her life unbearable. Even the police said so. What’s the point arguing about this?

  16. This story has more to it.. This child was crying in school on several occasions it appears CPS let her down and things got worse due to the school contacting Dad, it was said to be a bout a sports bra photo..

  17. I for one want to commend you for your original article, I shared it multiple times and stressed each time that while we don’t know what happened, the story was a perfect example of the worst case scenario for parents who have been jumping on the social shaming bandwagon. I am glad more information has been shared, although it does still seem like the family/friends are trying to sweep this under the rug still. I can understand the families desire to mourn in privacy but unfortunately, when a tragedy occurs this publicly, that is almost impossible. 60 years ago, yes, but in todays world it isn’t.

  18. This is just too sad. My daughter knew the girl from last year. They both followed each other on instagram. The videos were originally posted on Wednesday morning because my daughter saw them when she got out of school that day around 2pm. She said the videos were posted 5 hours before. Weather anyone wants to believe it or not the girls phone was taken away and couldn’t have posted those videos (yes multiple videos) there were comments and relpy from the girls instagram acct and which seemed to be the dad. Stating that young people have. Consequences for their actions. Also saying not to let her use anyone’s phone. So by Friday morning if and when she had counseling and cps was notified I believe she had felt like that would be the worst thing she had done by having opened up and reported her father. I believe that was the shame she felt. Not just the hair (that started it) but she then decided to write the suicide notes and also include that it wasn’t her dads fault. I believe she used the ipox because she had no phone because it was taken away. As I said I believe that dad did post those videos and took her phone away. Her instagram was also deleted. I’m sure it was not her that did so. Amy the one who commented above is very my h on the right idea.

  19. I believe that you are correct Jenn and I believe that police have ways to research this better. Even deleted videos can be researched and restored by the proper authorities.

  20. What a horrible post. You have so much pride as a writer that you didn’t even apologize for such assertions. You also seem wildly out of touch with modern day technology for a blogger, your ignorant statement about the notes on the iPod making no sense could have been resolved with a quick google search. Most iPods are now primarily touch screen and imitate iPhones just without service plans. So yes, iPods do have an app called “notes.” Writers such as yourself give the Tribune a bad name.

    • I only apologize when I feel I’ve done something wrong. I don’t believe I have in this case. You’re welcome to disagree but your insults haven’t really convinced me of much of anything.

      As for the iPod, what can I say? I’ve never been an Apple guy. And when it was pointed out to me, I agreed with it.

      Ultimately, I’ve had members of her family, friends of hers, psychologists, and counselors and others write me and thank me for my coverage. While I’m happy to let you share your opinion, it would appear to be a minority opinion.

  21. Mdotm, it is understandable that your emotions are running high, as we all have in this case. But let’s not start blaming the messenger. I think Jack was very sincere and if what he said about Ipod’s is his biggest mistake, then there really isn’t a lot to complain about.

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