From the editor: An apology for adding to the pain in Orange

Published: 3/9/2016 6:26:49 PM

Orange residents — especially their first responders — are in a world of hurt right now because they couldn’t save the lives of two young girls caught in a burning house Saturday. And we at The Recorder made things worse for them, the victims’ families and the broader community, with a Monday story that in the next-to-last paragraph reported comments from three bystanders implying that firefighters may not have done enough to save those lives.

Many of you have told us that reporting those statements was wrong. You are right; we need to apologize to everyone concerned for adding to the pain of this tragic event.

It was never our intention to hurt anyone in writing the story, which also recounted the heroic efforts of a father, policeman and neighbor to get to the victims. But to report the story thoroughly, staff writer Chris Curtis gathered as much information as possible from officials and eyewitnesses, including the three neighbors who raised the difficult questions. He then took those questions to Orange Fire Chief James Young, who chose that day not to respond.

Asking questions is what a community newspaper reporter should do. Where things broke down was back in the newsroom during the editing process. At that point, we now realize, we should have refrained from publishing the neighbors’ assertions until we had more time to thoroughly investigate them.

If we had waited until the next day (Tuesday), we could have asked Young again to provide details, interviewed more eyewitnesses and sought out other possible sources of reliable information.

As many of you know, we did ask those questions on Tuesday and produced an article (published Wednesday) that contained significantly more detail — including praise from neighbors for firefighters’ valiant efforts and word that those efforts might have been hampered by a faulty hydrant or other water-supply issues.

The story also included a key insight: From their vantage point, the three witnesses who originally complained may not have been able to see the efforts firefighters were making in the rear of the house to rescue the people inside.

Like you, the reporters, editors and photographers at The  Recorder are trying to do our best every day for the benefit of our communities.

Sometimes we get it wrong, and we are reminded that a single paragraph in a long story can create far-reaching consequences.

We must take responsibility for these failings, just as we lay claim to our successes. The only good thing about mistakes is we can learn from them, and we certainly will in this case — although I’m sure that’s of limited consolation to the firefighters and the families suffering today.

In the meantime, Chief Young, whose firefighters are understandably broken up about the lives lost, said he needs to help them all tend to their grief, and has put off discussing the operational details of the fire until the investigation is complete. In our conversation this week, he was gracious and thoughtful, and I want to thank him for that.

We trust that eventually he will help us clarify the details of the day, and what difficulties his staff encountered, in the interest of setting the record straight.

We stand ready to tell the story as fully as possible.

In the meantime, again, we apologize.


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