Back to US Life Histories

Tragic News Stories

Throughout my life I have had many experiences with the visual media, but the media that has affected me the most, especially as a child when I was most vulnerable, are TV news and the newspaper. I learned about the world and viewed it as all good or all bad by watching the news or reading the newspaper until I began to realize that its both. My behavior and moods are affected by my most memorable encounters with TV news and the newspaper.

My earliest recollection of a news story was when I was barely four years old. To this day I can still remember vividly my physical and social surroundings during the event. As I lay on my back in my family room I tossed a rubber ball up and down as I tried to ignore the boring TV program my father was watching: the evening news. All of a sudden my curiosity awoke when I heard the newscaster say the word, "kidnapped." I had never heard this strange word before. "What does kidnapped mean, daddy?" I casually asked. I knew something was wrong when he paused, as if he did not want to reply; so I repeated myself. In the simplest way possible he replied by telling me it is when a stranger takes a child.

It was at that moment that I realized for the first time that the world was not all good, as I had thought. It was as if I had taken a huge leap up the stairs of life and was now facing reality. It was only about 5 in the evening, but at that instant the night sky turned dark and cold. I no longer felt like an invincible child, safe from all harm. I never saw the picture of the boy on the news, because I blocked my eyes from seeing his face and having to remember it forever. As a result of this instance, I became less trusting of strangers, and less willing to be alone, even if it was only to go to bed for the night. Also, I would never read articles or watch the news if the story was about a child that was missing. My favorite childhood TV program was "Punky Brewster," I think the only episode I missed was when her friend was kidnapped.

Though this early recollection of the child being kidnapped was harmful, there were news stories that allowed me to grow and dream about in a childhood fantasy world again. My next recollection of a news event was when I was about five years old. It was the marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Their televised wedding was the first time I had ever watched TV for that long at one sitting time. Not only did the televised wedding have an impact on me, but all the events that lead up to this miraculous event. Before I saw their wedding on TV I had felt sorry for Diana, she seemed like a lost soul. The press portrayed her just an ordinary kindergarten teacher, until her "prince" rescued her. I thought about how lucky she was to marry into the royal family. I can still envision the moment. As I sat on my family room couch with my sister and the kids next door, I was in awe. I envied Diana and longed to have a life like hers some day. My eyes widened when I saw her veil; I'd never seen anything quite that long before. To me it truly was a fairy tale wedding. This televised imagery allowed me to think that maybe I, too, would someday find my "prince" and live happily ever after.

I was around the same age when the news events of the kidnapping and the marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles occurred, so they were connected in my mind. The royal marriage allowed me to view the world to the other extreme: all good, again.

But, before long, the news showed trauma in the world, again. The Challenger had exploded. I remember the events of this tragedy very clearly. I was coming back from gym class in third grade, except something was wrong, there was confusion and chaos. Something terrible had happened but I did not know what. I recall one student saying that President Reagan had been shot, but as my class was lead into the classroom next door, we all were told that the Challenger had exploded.

The room was dark and the only light emerged from the television set in the corner where I gazed at the constant replay of the explosion. As we all gathered quietly around, it was the first time I felt like an adult. Usually when the normal school routine is changed and third graders are allowed to watch TV there is constant talking and restlessness, but not this time. My teacher did not even have to say, "Be quiet." We knew this was serious and it was expected we would behave. While I watched news of this dreadful event, I could not help but think there was hope that the school teacher, Christa McAuliffe was still alive. There was a parachute that emerged out of the smoky, gray sky where the Challenger had exploded. I hoped that she was in it.

As the day went on we discovered that there were no survivors. How I felt a sense of loss even though Christa McAuliffe was not my mother! That year was the first year my mother had gone back to work as a teacher, and I could not get over how much my mother resembled Christa McAuliffe. My mind raced--her daughter was around the same age as myself. I could not comprehend that I would no longer have my mother alive. How was this girl going to get through this, I wondered?

The explosion of the Challenger was the first time I had become so absorbed in a news story. As I raced home from school that afternoon, I could only think of turning on the TV. I was so interested in the events of this tragedy that I watched the news coverage all night. This was the first time I had followed a news story. Before this tragedy, I had never picked up the newspaper, except to read the comics.

I remember my mother telling me that I will always remember where I was and how I felt when I found out the Challenger had exploded. She compared it to the Kennedy assassination. True, I will always remember the atmosphere, but it will never compare to the impact the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 had on me.

The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 occurred when I was ten years old. This was, again, a time in my life when I was very unsure of the world and its values. One Syracuse University student from my home town, in upstate New York, had been aboard the airplane. I can only recall her first name, Suzanne. She was only twenty-one, which seemed old to me at the time, but, still, I could not get over the thought that she would never get married, have children and so on. I remember thinking she was twice as old as I was, and I could not imagine having already lived half my life by age ten. I stared at her picture in the newspaper for the next two weeks and thought, how could someone's only motive in life be to kill innocent victims? I hated the person responsible for this explosion, along with his country. To this day, every time I fly in a plane I think of Suzanne.

For the days ahead, I endlessly read stories about Suzanne in the newspaper. I remember sitting on my kitchen table one evening and reading an article that one of her friends had written about her. After reading this and other articles about Suzanne, I felt that I knew her. Though I only knew her by reading articles in the newspaper, I felt I needed closure from this tragic event.

I had always loved to play with my Barbie dolls and make up creative lives for them. This night I role-played with my Barbies in a different way. I can still feel the calm atmosphere as I picked out the most beautiful Barbie clothes I had. I staged out what Suzanne's life might be like in heaven. I pretended that fifty years had gone by, and that the friend who had written the article for that evening's newspaper had died and gone to heaven. There, she met up with Suzanne, and Suzanne had told her that, yes, she had died at a very young age but, it was her time. Because there was really no other way to explain her death, besides believing it was God's will, allowed me to find closure in her tragic death.

My last news event affected me in a different way from the previous news stories. Because this event occurred almost ten years after the explosion of Pan Am flight 103, I have since matured to accept tragedies in the world. This most recent news event is the death of Princess Diana. I was sitting in my apartment when a news coverage came on about an accident. I ignored the story, thinking it was "just another accident." But as the coverage continued it became apparent that this story was about an important figure. I asked my roommate if she knew what the story was about. She replied, "Princess Di died." She had to repeat herself three times because I was sure I was not hearing her correctly. Was this the same women I had admired as I watched her wedding day? It was as if time had stood still, for the Princess could not be gone. I was shocked. I felt sorrow and emptiness that entire Sunday. I kept recalling that I was out at the bars having a good time when this beautiful, young women was killed in an automobile accident. To me this event marked yet another path in my life. Today I feel a sense of loss for the victims of traumas, but I no longer endlessly dwell on them. I may feel sorrow for the families for a day or two, but not weeks as I had as a child.

Today, tragic news stories effect me, but not as they did when I was a child. I will always recall the events stated above, the child who was kidnapped, the explosion of the Challenger and Pan Am Flight 103, and the marriage of Princess Diana, for they occurred when I was most vulnerable. But by the time of my most recent recollection, the death of Princess Diana, I have matured to know that there is both good and bad in the world and I have learned to find an even median. I feel sorrow for the victims of tragedies but have learned to move on. I no longer dwell on the life of each victim endlessly, wondering and questioning why this tragedy happened.

Back to US Life Histories