I was a Chips Quinn Scholar in spring 2001 at The Topeka Capitol-Journal in Kansas. Of the five internships I’ve had, I still consider that to have been the best and most instructive one.
I worked in rural Georgia for The Georgia Times-Union, a regional edition of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. The bureau had three writers; I was the only photojournalist. In 2007, I covered what was the most gut-wrenching and emotional story of my career. Six-year-old Christopher Barrios Jr. disappeared from the trailer park where he lived as he walked from his uncle’s mobile home to his grandmother’s on the opposite side of the lot.
I was there from the first day with the volunteer search parties. I covered the vigils, the police and the family as they prayed and grasped at every possible piece of hope they could find. I found the photographs, and the stories we published gave the community a way to rally around this missing boy. Every day as I shot photographs, I made sure I did it with a sense of empathy toward those involved, something I remember being told at our Chips Quinn orientation and by every seasoned journalist I admire.
I covered every aspect of the story to its unfortunate bitter conclusion, when seven days later, Christopher’s body was found several miles away from the mobile home park, wrapped in plastic. I visually documented the volunteers reacting to the announcement of this development, and later the family allowed me to continue telling the story of Christopher by taking photos at his wake and funeral.
The police would eventually arrest a neighbor, his wife and their grown son for kidnapping, abusing and murdering Christopher. I would cover the early days of their trial and the eventual follow-up with Christopher’s family as these developments occurred.
I hope and think that every story and photograph the newspaper published about this story somehow let the community continue their involvement in the tragically short life of Christopher Barrios Jr.
I can’t think of another story that affected me more personally. It’s the one story I’ve covered that I sincerely wish never happened. But it did, and I find some comfort in the fact that I think I did whatever justice I could to the memory of Christopher Barrios Jr. by documenting this part of his story as well as I could.
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