Monday, October 20, 2008

The time I covered a mass murder that you probably never heard about

This is the time I covered a mass murder that you probably never heard about.

One Saturday, we were called out late to a murder scene. An entire family, husband, wife, and three kids were found shot to death in a far northeast Houston neighborhood. (see it on Streetview) This was one of the strangest neighborhoods I’ve ever been to in Houston (city of strange neighborhoods). There was block after block of nicely paved streets, but 90% of the lots had never been developed. There are other places like this, like parts of Acres Home and some areas of the third ward, but I’ve never seen a place quite like this. Tall trees and overgrowth mixed with various mounds of urban trash covered most of the land, leaving only 2 or 3 houses per block. This was obviously a place the illegal dumpers frequented. There would be random piles of construction debris, stripped cars, household trash, a bunch of clothes and junk that I would guess was what someone tossed from the car they’d just stolen… When I first parked the truck and got out, I was parked next to a ditch full of hundreds of mason jars full of rotting canned vegetables. Yum.

The “house” where the murders occurred was actually a compound of small homemade buildings surrounded by a high wood fence with a gate to the driveway . I never really got to see inside it because it was the only house on the block and the police had blocked off both ends; we couldn’t see through the gate. A couple photographers had attempted to trudge though the overgrown lot across the street to get a shot through the gate, but had beet turned back by mud, brambles, or yells from the cops. The family was “Mexican”, meaning I don’t remember what country they were from, but they were Spanish-speaking immigrants… legal? I don’t know. The only people that seemed to know them were their nearest neighbors, a black family who’s land bordered theirs around the corner. All the TV stations interviewed the same family. They said how the family “kept to themselves” for the most part, but they’d come over a few times for 4th of July cookouts or whatever, and were very nice, and the wife was very nice but didn’t speak any English, and the kids seemed happy.

So what had happened? Apparently the family had been dead for several days, at least. The bull had gotten out, and the neighbor came over to tell the guy. The black family had horses, I think, and the bull had gotten out before. Did I mention nearly every house in this neighborhood had farm animals?

The neighbor could see what appeared to be a body through the gate, and called 911. . When the police arrived, they searched the compound and found the bodies of all the family members. They had all been shot. The father’s wound appeared to be self inflicted. Blood trails showed some of the victims had struggled with their attacker. Of course the police didn’t come out and say it, but it was pretty obvious the father had killed his family and himself. The neighbors remembered hearing shots a few nights ago, but in this neighborhood, they didn’t think much of it.

What struck me about this story was how soon it was forgotten. Sure, it was the top story on the local news that night, and maybe the second story the next day, but once the workweek started it was completely forgotten. If this had been a white suburban family, Nancy Grace would have been talking about it for weeks. But I doubt it even made the national news, barring a few AP wire stories. Why?

Surely there were stories to be found if one cared to look. The man surely had coworkers. The family surely had relatives, if not locally, in their home country.

Here’s a few possible reasons:

1) The family was Spanish speaking immigrants, and possibly here illegally.

2) They had no close relatives or acquaintances to cry in front of the tv cameras.

3) It happened on a weekend.

Well there it is. There’s a quick lesson in why a story gets big coverage or doesn’t.

Here’s some news stories a found about it:

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