In the almost four years that I've been responsible for reporting on crime in Toledo, I've covered 747 shootings, 153 homicides, and a few other really horrific deaths.
The worst ones involved children. Like the parents who strangled and drowned their newborn and then put him in a freezer. Or the man who shot and killed his three adorable children, his wife, and then himself in a calculated fit of jealousy. The sweetest little boy I'd ever seen a picture of was playing on a train behind his house when it lurched forward, he fell, and was cut in half. The pressure from the train was so great that his body was cauterized. The only speck of blood to be seen was on a small white rock which the boy's aunt took to keep. There were the babies who were shaken or thrown against walls – too many and too frustrating to think about. Especially now.
If I never again go to the funeral of a 1-year-old girl, the victim of asinine gang violence, I will be just fine with that.
The kids who lose their lives to street violence will never sit well with me. Especially Montelle Taylor.
Reporting on crime, especially violence, is extremely personal and you'll never know how much so until you do it. I've sat in more living rooms with grief-stricken mothers and sisters and wives and daughters and fathers, who can't stop crying long enough to speak, than I can count. Inviting me, a total stranger, into their homes to watch them lose all composure, is one of the bravest and most selfless things I've known on this job.
After about five months here I started having a recurring nightmare that gang members were breaking into my house and were shooting me from the top of a staircase while I was in a basement. I'd only wake up when my chest hurt so badly I couldn't breathe. I stopped having that dream after my first vacation.
Don't let the morbidness of the beat make you think that I don't love this job. I do. It's awesome and easily the best beat in the industry.
The stories I could tell would take an entire week. One of my favorites is from not long after I started at The Blade. Amy Voigt and I were out covering a homicide and I got a tip that police had filed a murder warrant for the suspect, although he wasn't yet in custody. I got homeboy's address and we went there (Because. Duh.). Amy and I went up to the door. I knocked. A guy who was a dead ringer for the suspect answered. I think Amy and I both almost threw up. (Turns out it wasn't him, but we got an awesome interview with the suspect's aunt.)
I love people, and the crime beat is all about people. People at their best and people at their worst. You get to hang out with the bad guys and the good guys. Occasionally the bad guys become the good guys and vice versa. The crime beat is one ongoing study in human interaction and it is endlessly fascinating. Plus, like, how many people would have been stupid enough to go hang out with gang members for months on end? I mean, whatever, they were the most unusual and fun months of my life. We were lucky to come away from that with some kick-ass stories (and pictures) and a few awards, including a national one.
Crime reporting is considered by a lot of people to be an entry-level position that people are forced into. I fell into it, by accident, and never imagined I'd leave.
But, I am.
Today is my last day on the crime beat. Monday, when I report to work at The Blade, I'll have a new assignment – don't know what it is yet – but whatever it is I'm sure it will be interesting. Not as interesting – not sure what could be – but I'm excited for it.
Or maybe excited isn't the right word. I have a lot of mixed feelings right now. I'm a little sad. OK, that's a lie. I'm a lot sad. But change is good, right?
Plus, if you haven't been following along on social media, you might not know, but in July I'll become a mommy, and that's pretty awesome. One of my colleagues asked what I'd do if my water broke at a crime scene and I was like, “I'd probably get a Code-3 escort to the hospital.” (Which, for the record, would be awesome.)
I'm not leaving the beat because of Nugget (that's what I call my little guy or gal because I don't like “it” and using the name I've picked out, Milan (my Opa's name, the most worthy namesake of all time), just feels weird still). I'm turning in my “junior police” badge because decompression is strongly encouraged. (Except I am actually keeping the “junior police” badge, because it's really cool. My sister and I each got one when we did a ride along a couple years ago.)
I'm sure I'll still pick up on scanner quips and when the emergency tones sound I'll sit up and panic a little bit. I'll probably swear out loud. Because. That's what I do. When the new police reporter – whoever that is – goes to run out of the building (and I hope they run or my blood pressure is going to skyrocket) to go to a shooting or a fire or some other breaking news mayhem, I'll feel a twinge of pain and jealousy. Probably for the rest of eternity.
I assume that the shooting I went to yesterday was my last.
You'll still be able to follow along on Twitter. I'll let you know who the new lucky duck crime reporter is once we know who the new lucky duck crime reporter is. Hopefully you'll be as good to them as you were to me.
I'm also selfishly curious as to what my new assignment will be. I should know on Monday. I'll keep you posted, too. If you want to break up on Twitter, it's OK. I'll always remember the special times we shared.
Fingers crossed for a good new adventure.
I should say thank you. Thank you to the families who welcomed me to their worlds during their darkest times, and thank you to the police officers, firefighters, agents, deputies, corrections officers, and troopers who have been incredibly kind and (usually) easy to work with. Some of you are now my friends, and that's even better.
If this entire thing seems a little bit dramatic, it's because it feels dramatic. To me. Crime reporting has been my life – that's how people know me. For some, that's all they know about me.
“HEY, YOU'RE THAT GANG GIRL!”
“HEY! YOU'RE THAT ONE CRIME REPORTER, AREN'T YOU?”
It's a big change, and like I said, I'm a little bit sad, but I'll be OK. Especially once I go home tonight, put on some pink fuzzy socks, and watch Modern Family reruns while Nugget and I enjoy some ice cream straight from the carton.