Why we identified a 12-year-old accused murderer

In today’s paper, we name Ezekiel “Zeke” Holmes, the 12-year-old boy accused of killing his mother and trying to kill his 16-year-old sister with a kitchen knife Tuesday morning at their Ashland home.
Stories like these are difficult on everyone. We in the newsroom feel the same horror and grief as the community, ask the same helpless questions. Why? How? What would lead someone so young to allegedly commit such a violent act?
Ashland police and the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office declined to name the suspect. We generally don’t name juveniles in crime stories, either, to protect their identity. Kids make mistakes. They deserve the chance to learn from them, make amends and move on.
But serious, violent crimes are different. We believe the public has the right to know the identity of someone charged with a heinous crime such as murder.
The Mail Tribune’s policy is to identify juveniles when they are charged with Measure 11 crimes or, in the case of juvenile court, the equivalent. We were in the process of trying to confirm the suspect’s identity — rumors already had started — when Zeke’s father identified him in a public Facebook post, making any chance of anonymity a moot point. The community now knows.
Giving readers as much concrete information as possible helps avoid damaging rumors about innocent people. We already had heard a couple of different names circulating around before Jim Holmes put the rumors to rest.
He also named his daughter, Lydia, who by association was already identified by police as the suspect’s sister, and we included her name in a story, too. Naming the victims helps humanize them — they are not faceless victims. They are people the community cares about. That Zeke’s father was open about his family helped contribute to our decision, and the community has responded to the Holmeses in a big way. A gofundme.com account had raised $21,000 and counting for the family as of this morning.
Naming the family members in this tragic story was not a decision we made lightly. We don’t always make the right call, but we do try to weigh all factors. We want to give readers as much information as possible so they can respond to a community tragedy with knowledge, compassion and support.

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    Cathy Noah

    Believe it or not, journalists are real people, too. Editor Cathy Noah explores the inner workings of the newsroom, explaining why the Mail Tribune did — or didn't — do something that made readers angry / sad / happy / incredulous / stupefied. ... Full Profile
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