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R.I.P., Autumn Pasquale - Everyone Else: It’s Not About You

Grieve for the victims of this tragedy. Just do it without calling for blood.

FILE PHOTO: A handmade memorial to Autumn Pasquale.
FILE PHOTO: A handmade memorial to Autumn Pasquale.

Originally posted October 25, 2012.

Some pretty intense sentiments have appeared in the comments on our coverage of the disappearance and murder of Autumn Pasquale on Patch.

Without calling out individual commenters, I've seen posts advocating for an (explicitly) savage assault of the two juveniles charged with the crime; remarks saying that anyone who caught up with them would be well-served to kill them outright and cover it up; even some that suggested that Pasquale's killers should be made to suffer in a public forum.

It was enough to make me want to ask Patch readers as an audience—where are we with this?

Without dismissing the severity of the tragedy that has unfolded this week in the small town of Clayton, we’ve pretty much seen some of the worst in ourselves as it’s played out.

Before Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton held a press conference Tuesday to announce that arrests had been made in the case, we already had our outrage prepared.

(How ready were we? One media outlet led with a headline announcing that the suspects had "murdered" Pasquale—before remembering that journalists don’t have the power to convict people and attributing the remark to Dalton.)

At that press conference, Dalton did not provide the names of the 15- and 17-year-old who were charged in the case.

But the Internet did.

We saw it happen first on Facebook and Twitter, and then, shrugging their shoulders and looking at one another, on local and international press outlets, who repeated it louder and louder.

This is a real problem for new media. In the world where everyone has an online presence and is therefore a real-time source of information, what is the value of a thing like legal precedent? Or professional ethics?

When you’re being deafened by a crowd-sourced outing, what’s the sense of keeping quiet?

If that were the biggest problem I see in this case, I would take it. But the level of anger, fantasy violence and maudlin emotion about this story is what’s really shocking—and that's before we even get to how it's being broadcast with a sense that we are entitled to these feelings, collectively.

This is a traumatic and deeply saddening crime. But who has a right to that level of grief? The families involved in the case—both of them. And that’s about it. Not me, not you, not other parents, not vigilantes.

Collingswood was floored this summer to learn of the violent death of 21-year-old Shelley Johnson of the Tortilla Press. All the way out in Vacaville, C.A., the family of her boyfriend, Paul Aldapa, wrote to remind readers that they had lost someone too in that tragedy.

This is what’s also true of the family of the two juvenile suspects charged in Autumn Pasquale’s death.

If they are convicted of those crimes, they will be known rightly and lawfully as murderers. And that pronouncement will not give any of the children involved in this case back to their parents.

So what are we on the sideline doing screaming for vengeance? What are we owed from this?

  • We can deserve a safe community without needing to abandon the reason that should uphold it.
  • We can be good parents and loving neighbors without demanding that we beat our breasts and weep and say that tragedies like these form a legitimate basis for revenge.
  • We might even wait to see how the trial goes before we choose to react. Being good parents, and knowing that our children will measure their emotional investment by our own, it’s an opportunity to show kids that there is a process at work here.
  • Just because we’re as scared that something awful lurks around the corners of our own neighborhoods does not obligate us to lash out blindly. Nor does it excuse the self-righteousness of our anger.

John Donne said it more artfully than you’ll get from me. But if we all are "of mankind," then we owe it to ourselves to get better at sticking together.

Sean Andrew October 25, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Matt - I fully understand what you are saying. And, I do not disagree. People are "venting" and I must share with you that you need to be worried - people are angry underneath right now. As a result, they are making comments and statements about situations they know nothing about or, at a minimum, are missing key details. These boys have been arrested; they have not been tried or convicted. Whether its in our community, our state (look at the Christie name-calling we tolerate), or nation (your example works), people are much more concerned about complaining about the problem than fixing it. And, in doing so, they get mighty violent.
senior October 25, 2012 at 10:17 PM
OK; Matt, I think that you are right but only to some extent. The MEDIA was feeding us all details from the moment this littlegirl was missing through every step to the moment of arrest. We were included in this story! We had hope for good ending and when that did not happened we are left with EMOTIONS. We are humans. We have children, grandchildren. We are getting scared and uneasy .about welfare of our families. No, I do not think that we should go overboard with our comments, but in a way we have to deal with the fear and rage and dissapointment in human race. And yes we fill the grief. The grief for one more life taken, the grief for parents who lost their children.
Matt Skoufalos October 26, 2012 at 04:44 AM
Senior, I hear you. This is a story everyone wanted to know about, and the media have a responsibility to report the information accurately, fairly, and in a timely fashion. In the performance of that duty, we also have a responsibility not to convict people in print, not to abandon our ethics even if we're horrified at the story. Like you, I was hopeful; like you, I share your extreme disappointment in its outcome. That still doesn't excuse the severity of these reactions. I don't understand why just because something tragic happened that we should inflict or wish for further violence as compensation. Who does that help? How much do we feel better? If the people who did this are convicted, they will be punished. Eviscerating and excoriating them, even if they were indeed guilty, does nothing to bring the victim back, nothing to keep our kids safer; the people suspected in the crime are in custody. We can certainly fear for the safety of our children and seek justice for unjust acts, but in the wisdom of our forebears, we put processes in place for handling these things. We ought to respect them. It's the level of anger, the quickness with which we access it, and the degree to which we are convinced that it is justified that concern me. I see it too many places besides here for it to be coincidental. If we're not able to learn about unfortunate events without processing them in a healthy fashion, I fear more for our collective future than I do any random criminals.
Longtime Colls Resident October 27, 2012 at 01:31 AM
This is my 2 cents for what it is worth. I think that social media gives people a "voice" - a place to vent their feelings. Everyone is outraged that something like this can happen to a child and so close to home. But then a mob mentality takes over. Some idiot always has to post a differing opinion creating more outrage. I have seen people blaming the girl's parents for not knowing where she was. She was 12. She should be able to go bike riding. I personally wish that people would focus more on the role that facebook played in this situation. It has been reported that the victim and the perpetrators had contact on facebook. Parents are so worried about keeping their children safe and yet they are permitted to go out into the world via the world wide web. I have 8 and 10 year old nieces who are on facebook. I am appalled that their parents condone this. You cannot be 100 percent sure who you are friending - anyone can set up a profile, pretend to be a 12-13 year old and connect with children. I hope that this tragic situation can at some point shed some light on this very real problem. I am very grateful that social media was not an issue when my kids were growing up. I pray for Autumn's family and hope that they do not see some of the comments posted on facebook.
kimberle madden October 27, 2012 at 06:56 PM
thank you matt for your original thoughts, i wholeheartedly agree and appreciate the others' comments. it's because of social media and the times we are in, that it is so important to try and stop and think, really think before we respond to any given situation.

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