‘Don’t think for a moment journalists don’t feel guilt or disgust’

Scott MacFarlane was among the first group of reporters to track the cases of Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus in 2004, while working as a correspondent for the CBS TV affiliate in Cleveland.

I went to bed in great spirits Monday night.

The nine-year odyssey was over for the families of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. The girls were safe. Their nightmare was over.

But I awoke at 3 a.m. with a chill. A spooky thought strangled me.

Did I once walk past that westside Cleveland house from which the girls were rescued?

Did I walk past it while canvassing the neighborhood in April 2004, seeking tips and reaction from neighbors, while reporting the original disappearance?

Yup. It’s spooky how close this alleged “house of hell” sits to the homes in which these girls were raised and in which their families still reside. Same neighborhood. Same community. Did we follow police search dogs down that very street? Did we follow one of the many candlelight vigils down that very street?

At 3 a.m., I wondered: could the girls hear the police cars outside between 2004 and 2013? Could the girls hear the reporters knocking on doors? Did they hear our live broadcasts?

As is often the case at 3 a.m., one unsettling thought triggers another. And another. I wondered if I’d done the city of Cleveland and the girls a disservice with my “big” April 10, 2004, exclusive on TV.

I’d uncovered some police reports showing Gina DeJesus had an argument with her family on the eve of her disappearance. Something about a missed skating party or a cigarette.

Here’s a quote from the story, still circulating online: “When asked if Gina being grounded by her parents for smoking could have instigated her to run away, especially considering she was not being allowed to go to the skating party later that night, her friend said it wasn’t likely.”

Did I insinuate Gina was a runaway? Did I give police even a shred of a fraction of a piece of a reason to let their guard down?

Don’t think for a moment journalists aren’t impacted, emotionally and spiritually, by the stories they cover. Don’t think for a moment journalists don’t feel guilt or disgust.

I wonder if I feel the same as some hard-working Cleveland police feel. Could I have done better? Could I have done more? Could I have contributed something to shorten the nine years of hell these girls survived?

I applaud the happy ending. I’m gratified. In 2004, I didn’t envision a healthy, safe recovery for Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry. I’m so glad I was wrong about that.

I just wish I was more “right” in 2004.

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