There are few circumstances in which good journalists want to become a story rather than cover one, but through no fault of their own two Post-Dispatch staffers became the center of attention while reporting on developments this week in a foreign country.
Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold and photographer Chris Lee were in the Dominican Republic to cover the funeral of Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, 22, who, along with his girlfriend, were killed Sunday in a car accident there. But the attention soon turned to the journalists.
They arrived Tuesday and because the visitation already was under way they rented a car and were led directly to that site, not having time to check in to a hotel.
“We had to race there,” Goold said.
The funeral followed, as did Taveras’ coffin being carried through the streets of his hometown of Sosua en route to a cemetery. It was quite a scene, with Goold saying “thousands and thousands of people descended.”
The journalists were separated. Lee took dramatic photos of the events and Goold conducted interviews and spent time with Cards pitcher Carlos Martinez, a longtime friend of Taveras, in compiling his compelling report.
When they had completed that phase of their work, they returned to their rental car and discovered that it had been broken into and all their belongings that had been inside were gone — among them computer equipment, a camera lens, clothes and personal items — including a journal Goold had kept that included entries about his young son’s life. Three other vehicles also had been broken into, police told them.
All they had was what had been on them, which fortunately included their passports.
It became a big deal there, with the local media taking hold of the story of American journalists becoming crime victims while in their country to help honor a hometown hero and relay the information back to the U.S.
That led to local citizens embracing the journalists.
“Carlos Martinez was very helpful to us,” Goold said. “Many people were tremendous to us. This town is grieving, has just lost a beloved son and the people rally to help us. It was remarkable.”
Goold still had to write his story and Lee had to process and file his photos to the Post-Dispatch.
“It became a community effort to find a place” for us to work, Goold said. “They made the best of the situation.’’
Lee said Ydelqui Brito, Taveras’ attorney, was especially helpful, doing whatever was necessary to accommodate them — accompanying them for four or five hours after already having spent all day running the funeral proceedings after more than a day of planning.
“He was instrumental in helping us being able to complete our jobs,” Lee said. “I can’t say enough about him.”
Lee and Goold were taken to multiple places to try to find internet access and computers that would accommodate what they needed. They ended up at an art gallery, but it was unsuitable for their needs. So the man who runs it, one of Brito’s friends, took them to his home — where his son was about to have his ninth birthday party. The journalists were able to complete their jobs there, although they had to work on a keyboard set to type in Spanish. It was a highly unusual experience.
“They gave us water and birthday cake,” Goold said. “They were tremendous to us.”
He said two police officers, as well as Brito, stayed with them until they finally made it to their hotel at about 1 a.m.
“The people there showed us compassion, respect and treated us tremendously,” Goold said.
When they were at the airport the next day to return home, Goold said they were noticed because of all the media coverage.
“People were apologizing,’’ he said. “They were very sorry about what happened to us.”
That was a general theme.
“For the people to help us the way they did while they were mourning, I have a tremendous amount of appreciation and respect for that,” he added. “They didn’t have to do anything because in a way we were intruding on their day, their pain, and they did everything they could to help us.”
He added that what happened to them is minor in the big picture.
“We were there to cover a funeral; I don’t want to lose sight of the tragedy that brought us there,” Goold said. “Us losing our stuff — it’s just stuff. Somebody lost their life. That’s what’s important.”