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Year in Review: Communities battle through tragedy

Bailey Belisle 1 / 2
Megan Bennig2 / 2

Editor's note: This story is part of a series recapping the top stories of 2017. Read the other top stories here.

The New Richmond and Somerset communities have been rocked by tragedy in the year 2017. As tears ran down cheeks, as hearts were aching, as candles were being lit and memories were flowing like dark rivers, something that began so small blossomed into something beautiful in the midst of the darkness: community togetherness and compassion.

Those who lost their lives this past year will be listed here. Not to stir up sad and painful memories, but to acknowledge how their losses affected all who knew them, and even more than their deaths, their lives. They will not soon be forgotten, and we hope that family members can take a small amount of comfort in knowing how much their children meant in the community, evidenced by the outpouring of support on social media when these tragedies occurred.

Jordan Tulgren, 19, New Richmond.

Bailey Belisle, 14, Somerset.

Matthew Freeberg, 18, Somerset

Aubree Long, 14 weeks, Baldwin and her dad, Jeffrey Long, 39, Baldwin.

Megan K. Bennig, 16, New Richmond.

Morgan Greene, 10, New Richmond.

Brett Mueller, 17, New Richmond.

Out of respect for those who loved them as they battle grief, it is not necessary to detail how each child here died. We have already done that in reporting at the times of their deaths.

This “year in review” recap is meant to shine a light on how News staff feel when these things happen. Although our sadness surely doesn’t compare with that of those who loved these kids, it’s still palpable just the same.

Many people envision reporters as being vultures, ready to pounce on the first “bad news” story that comes their way, hoping it “sells papers” and drives up online views. In our case, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Who in their right mind would rub their hands together with glee as tragedy strikes, hoping it sells one more newspaper? Each report of a small child dying far too soon, each accident in which someone loses their life, each brutal crime committed which litters pages of court reports with unthinkable accounts, is like a punch in the gut. I can’t speak for all reporters, but I know I’ve been kept up at night with a swirling mind, recounting things I read, much of which don’t make it into the story. Contrary to belief, not every grisly detail is recounted in every story.

I’ve fielded questions from a few readers lately who want to know why we report on accidents, and why we publish accident scene photos. My answer is inspired by former Red Wing Republican Eagle editor Jim Pumarlo’s take on the situation, an excerpt of which follows here from his guide to sensitivity in reporting:

“Reporting fatal accidents in small communities can have a large impact. Word spreads quickly and many will know the people involved.

“Reporting … facts can be painful to family members and friends. But the information can also be integral to a story. These facts, and others, are part of official police reports. They help readers understand why an accident occurred. They can offer lessons to others.

“Reporting tragedies -- in words and photos -- is always a challenge. But the fact remains: fatal accidents are significant events in the life of a community. No information travels faster than that of a tragic accident.

“Our responsibility is to report the news -- good and bad. Violence and grief are very much a part of everyday life.”

That doesn’t mean we don’t try to be sensitive to how people feel. That means that sometimes we have to do something very tough, especially when we knew those involved, which happens. They are also sometimes our friends, our neighbors, and yes, our family members. Not always, but it happens.

We are hoping 2018 is a year that brings joyful stories, not tragedy.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in February 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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