Ombud: Articles on murder-suicide criticized

To our readers:
On Friday the Times Argus published an article about the murder of Courtney Gaboriault and the subsequent suicide of her ex-boyfriend, Luke Lacroix, her murderer.

Following publication, the article received criticism from multiple members of the public and law enforcement because they felt it did too much to memorialize the killer, and not enough to remember the victim of this heinous crime, Gaboriault. The way the article was written, the criticism said, minimized the horrific nature of the domestic violence that led to her death, and his culpability in that act. In addition, some readers said they believed the story blamed the victim for the crime. Others defended the reporting, pointing out that the facts surrounding the killer were important in that they showed that even well-liked members of the community can be capable of terrible things.

We are sorry the article has caused our community so much additional pain.

On Saturday, Times Argus Editor Steven Pappas and General Manager Shawn Stabell asked me to take a look at this as a sort of ombudsman, as I was not involved at any point in the reporting or editing of this story, to see what the newspaper could do to respond to the criticism and take steps to correct any missteps.

After reading the two articles about the murder, speaking to the reporter, David Delcore, and reviewing reader comments and Facebook posts, I have several conclusions. Please excuse the dry nature of these thoughts, as I am well aware that this involves real people and terrible grief. But I am both trying to engage the criticism and to help find a path forward.

First, I find that the reporting on the facts of the case was accurate, but that the weight given to details about the murderer and his standing in the community did in practice create an imbalance in the article.

According to the common practice at the newspaper, the intent of the article was to first report the facts as we knew them at the time of reporting, and second to provide a picture of the people involved as much as possible. Often times the reporting takes place over the course of hours and days, as more details emerge. That was the case here, where the first article appeared online Wednesday, with the initial details, and the second article appeared online Thursday, with more detail. In the first instance, the article does describe the events of the day as accurately as the reporter and the editing staff were able. Many of the details were not available until later in the day on Thursday, and so Delcore spent much of the day attempting to establish the track record of the assailant, Lacroix, and waiting for further information on Gaboriault. There was no criminal record, or restraining orders on record, according to authorities when asked. After establishing that Lacroix was the Spaulding lacrosse coach, Delcore worked on establishing more details about him and who he was. All this reporting was done to try to find out whether there were warning signs or other evidence about Lacroix that would indicate he was capable of this act. What Delcore found is that the community around him was having trouble equating the lacrosse coach with the man who committed a heinous act of murder. This is the reasoning behind including so much detail about the murderer. It was not Delcore’s choice to paint a picture of him as a “good guy” — that was the story the community told.

This is where the editing team failed this story – by failing to recognize and correct this imbalance.

The description of Gaboriault misses the mark, by making her killer the center of the story, rather than her. There is some relevance to Lacroix’s standing in the community, as it serves to show that a person who is perceived in one way can be capable of the very worst. Yet by including so many details about him and his relationships, and comparatively few about Gaboriault, the article creates an unbalanced weight to the picture of the people involved. It also can have the effect of minimizing Lacroix’s culpability and guilt.

Many critics of this article have said this glorifies the murderer at the expense of his victim. In addition, some said that it blames the victim. There is extensive debate within the journalism community about how to approach this. How much weight do we give to reporting about perpetrators of horrific crimes? What purpose does reporting on the motives, the lives or the personalities of killers serve? In this case, the reporting serves to show that domestic abusers are not alien to our communities — they are among us, often unrecognizable as abusers to people other than their victims or a close circle of friends and families. Part of our role as journalists should be to educate the community on how to identify these signs, and the steps to intervene.

In addition, the article does show that she took the steps to leave what had become a troubled relationship. Delcore was not able to find more about this prior to publication — as noted above, there was no criminal record or much else documentation of those details available at the time of reporting. It is difficult to square that with the accusation that the article blames her for her killing. Yet some have pointed out, rightly, that whether or not she left him should have no bearing on the relative guilt. This is a level of nuance that we will work to address as part of how we report on domestic violence in the future.

In no way should this take precedence over the story of the life lost — that of Courtney Gaboriault, and the fact that Lacroix is culpable for her death and for the grief of not only her family and community but his own.

In retrospect, this was probably better done through breaking this story into separate articles — one about the events surrounding the murder, a separate follow-up about Lacroix and domestic violence, and, most importantly, an article about the life of Gaboriault, who by all accounts was a wonderful, accomplished woman. Delcore had started working on that part almost immediately, but for various reasons it was not ready for publication in the short time frame, and the immediate opportunity was lost.

This is sometimes our practice, and the separation allows for a focus on the life — as was the case in the killing of Lara Sobel. I raise that as a parallel because the reporting on her as a victim, and her fellow victims, did not take place until days after the killings. The reporter in that case waited until the memorial services to write about the victim in order to attempt to paint a fuller picture, and to give the family and friends time to collect their thoughts on their loved one. As journalists we often walk a line between being intrusive in the lives of victim’s families and being respectful of their grief. At the same time we serve the broader community by sharing their stories, which with murders are inevitably connected to their killer.

What steps can the Times Argus take to correct this? First, the apology.

For failing initially in our responsibility to highlight the brilliance of her life, we are truly, deeply sorry. It was not our intention, and an apology is not enough, but we work and live in this community and we feel the disappointment and pain around us.  At the end of the day, this analysis will do nothing to change what has already been published. We can only attempt to do better, and intend to do justice to her as much as possible in the days to come.

Second, this newspaper, and the sister newspaper, the Rutland Herald, will take steps to re-evaluate how we cover domestic violence now and in the future. We have not updated our standards and processes for reporting on domestic abuse in years, and it is time for an overhaul. Sometimes we fall back on patterns built out of years of experience, and on this issue we need to re-establish a current and conscious understanding of our best practice and our role. As law enforcement and the criminal justice system have made steps to change their approach, we should, too. On Monday morning, the staff at the Times Argus met to review the circumstances of the story’s construction and editing, as well as to begin discussions about putting best practices in place for news gathering that will ensure this kind of misstep can not occur again. Pappas, the newspaper’s editor, also has begun scheduling meetings with community leaders and experts in victim advocacy and domestic violence issues in order to find ways to incorporate their knowledge into our processes.

Third, at the heart of this is a story about two lives. We cannot shy away from this — the beautiful young life of an innocent woman was taken from her and from her loved ones through a violent act. She was not responsible for that — in fact she had taken the right steps to exit an abusive relationship. The man who committed that heinous act did wrong both to her and to the people who loved him. He is ultimately responsible for this grief and this wrong. As a broader community it calls into question whether we actually know what lies within the people around us, and calls on us to do whatever we can to identify signs that might prevent another such act in the future.

For all of the people who have commented on Facebook and on the article, thank you for contributing your feedback. I am grateful that you have participated in a civil and thoughtful way. It will ultimately help us be a better news organization, but more importantly will focus our role in ending the plague of domestic violence.

Rob Mitchell is the general manager of the Rutland Herald, and one of that paper’s longtime editors.

This story has been edited and updated from its original version to include information from Monday, as well as additional analysis. 

26 responses to “Ombud: Articles on murder-suicide criticized”

  1. Patricia Rizzo says:

    Perhaps your newspaper can make a donation befitting this apology to the charity that the victim was most fond of, The Central Vermont Human Society. It’s one way of ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ and will, at the same time, honor the memory of the victim and help the community at large.

    • Kate’s Erwin says:

      Actually they are developing a lacrosse scholarship in Luke’s name to be given out to a senior at Spaulding High School. This may be a more appropriate allocation of funds at this point.

      • Marina Murphy says:

        Kate Erwin–Luke is a murderer. I am not sure how this is a more appropriate allocation of funds than donating in the name of his victim. I would not want my child receiving an award named after a selfish, law-breaking, murdering coward….even if he was a former lacrosse coach.

        I am so flabbergasted by this community right now.

      • Kerrie Greig says:

        I hope the school will be smart enough to rethink having a scholarship in the name of a man who murdered his ex girlfriend!! I find that incredibly insensitive and outrageous.

        • Rob Mitchell says:

          Clarification on this: Neither the school or the district are planning a scholarship in his memory. They believe the misunderstanding arises from his obituary, which says:

          www.timesargus.com/articles/luke-n-lacroix/

          “… Memorial contributions may be made to the SHS Foundation Athletics Program, 120 Ayer St., Barre, VT 05641; or the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center, 28 Vernon St., Suite 319, Brattleboro, VT or at www.vtspc.org.”

      • Juli Smith says:

        Is this some sort of twisted “joke?!” A scholarship in memory of a murderer? Absolutely disgusting.

      • Patricia Rizzo says:

        Seriously? ‘More appropriate’? How to you figure? He was a MURDERER.

      • Rob Mitchell says:

        Clarification on this: Neither the school or the district are planning a scholarship in his memory. They believe the misunderstanding arises from his obituary, which says:

        www.timesargus.com/articles/luke-n-lacroix/

        “… Memorial contributions may be made to the SHS Foundation Athletics Program, 120 Ayer St., Barre, VT 05641; or the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center, 28 Vernon St., Suite 319, Brattleboro, VT or at www.vtspc.org.”

  2. Alison Redlich says:

    Adam Silverman in his Facebook critique showed an entire page from the press release that included information and quotes about the victim, her photograph, and implied that there was a representative from her work/organization on hand to answer questions for reporters from three other media outlets. The organization of the article needs to be addressed as it was only after nine paragraphs that we got the most meager of information about the victim. After covering Michelle Gardner Quinn and Laura Winterbottom I do understand the difficult nature of balancing time constraints and being respectful of family. I do hope to see more balanced coverage moving forward.

  3. Doris Blouin says:

    Although this article explains the situation and attempts to rectify the errors in Delcore’s article, I feel the original writer should also do something to reach out to the community and find some ways to make amends. It won’t change what was done, but it will at least show the community as well as those who were affected by this that he actually cares and regrets that more thought should have been put into this difficult story.

  4. Marina Murphy says:

    1. David Delcore had plenty of chances to talk to those who knew Courtney well. The Department of Safety’s public statement was issued and dated an entire day before his article was published. All other publications immediately showed up to the Dept. of Safety, but not the TA! 2. I am curious why this “sort of ombudsman” is issuing the apology and not David Delcore and/or the editor, who should also be the ones making the promises in regards to how to move forward and effect some evidence-based change at this publication. I am so, so disappointed in this journalism and the individuals involved with it. However, i am not surprised that responsibility was deflected and inaccurate excuses were used.

    • Rob Mitchell says:

      Hi Marina – We felt some kind of immediate response was warranted, as imperfect as it may be. We are simply trying to, as transparently as possible, break down what we did and understand how to improve. I got involved in order to attempt to be an outside perspective, and am fully aware that I am not completely outside, independent eyes on this. -Rob

  5. Kathie says:

    Thank you for addressing this so thoughtfully & so eloquently.

  6. Bradley French says:

    Cool, a lot of excuses and attempting to explain away sensationalism. You’re vultures, the same as most other media outfits, and the public is getting really tired of it.

  7. William McKern says:

    Dave Delcore is an excellent reporter. I’m sure that given time, his complete coverage of this event and the people involved would have been fact-based, well-sourced and fair, because those qualities are always reflected in his work.

    The criticism of the Times Argus and subsequent introspection as detailed here by Rob Mitchell are fine as far as they go, but with a little more time to provide a complete picture, Dave would have gotten the story right even without them.

  8. A. Paul Possel says:

    It’s hard to imagine an editor running the story as it was and that is the case with other articles written by Delcore which come across as commentary rather than reporting.

  9. Sarah Scotch says:

    Thank you for responding so constructively. One comment: you say about Ms. Gaboriault’s death, “She was not responsible for that – in fact she had taken the right steps to exit an abusive relationship.” Let us be clear — if she had done nothing to leave him, she would have been equally free of responsibility for her death. I suggest that the paper staff get training with a domestic violence expert. The “right” steps for one survivor of DV may be the absolute most dangerous steps for another one, in great part because the most likely time for survivors to be murdered by batterers is when they try to leave the relationship.

    • Rob Mitchell says:

      Very true, and this is the type of nuance that we are working on incorporating as standard practice.

  10. Brian Baker says:

    You also must remember that Domestic Violence is something that we cannot IGNORE: Far too many people are involved in toxic relationships, and you cannot ASSUME anything, but if the victim asks for help, it should be given, and I am not sure whether this state will file charges against someone who is accused if the Victim does not wish to file charges.

    It is sad that the TA would write an article that is lop-sided and paints the perp like this – In the end, he KILLED someone, and we need to realize that Domestic Violence is NOTHING to mess around with – It hurts the victim, the families and others who are involved – We NEED better training for everyone – and we need a way to PROTECT people from this. Restraining Orders and the Law can do this, but perps can just walk through the orders, as they are just paper – If someone has a weapon, the situation rises to the Danger Level – Too many people are getting hurt because the laws need to protect Domestic Violence Victims and their families.

    How we do that is the challenge – People DIED here – and Courtney paid the price – Memorialize HER and NOT the murderer – This is a tragedy for everyone involved, but we have to remember that sometimes what seems to be may not be what actually is – Not all abuse situations are black and white, and someone may be suffering bruising on the INSIDE too, where it is NOT so evident.

    Mr. Mitchell: I agree, I think Dave Should make an apology and publish it for all of us to read – He reported what happened, but it could be done in a different way – A Respected young lady lost her life – but the way this was reported could have given information without making it seem like LaCroix is “squeaky clean” – Sure, he was a Lacross Coach, and people may be shocked, but he KILLED a young woman – and THAT should be what is reported.

    • Steven Pappas says:

      Ultimately, the content of our paper is my responsibility. Rob’s fine response offers an overall apology. But if anyone at The Times Argus — at the personal level — needs to apologize, it is me. For the pain and re-victimization our article has caused, I am truly sorry. It was not our finest hour, and we are making every effort to ensure that our reporting reflects the quality journalism our readers expect and deserve. — Steve Pappas, editor

      • Local Advocate says:

        Give your apology publicly, in its own article, front and center, WITHOUT EXCUSES. Not in a sub comment.

  11. Jane says:

    This is an excellent response. Thanks to Rob Mitchell and Times Argus for publishing it. I have to say I was a bit confused and dismayed by tone and focus of the original piece, but I also recognize it was not a malicious mistake and the responses to the piece, while justified in one sense, were, in some cases, pretty disgraceful. In attempting to defend the victim, some seemed to be fomenting the very nastiness/violence they claim to be against. A mistake was made by the Times Argus, yes. But they didn’t kill anyone. They made an editorial mistake. They took the vicious criticism and offered a well-considered, well-written apology. Let’s see how many people understand how to accept a genuine apology vs how many people harbor violence in their own hearts.

  12. Incognito says:

    Oddly enough, Facebook is covered with praise for Luke ignoring that fact that he killed someone. I don’t care about any demons or feelings you have. That does not give you the right to kill someone. He is a murder. His friends on Facebook should speak up and be embarrassed to have known him. He should be forgotten and NO ONE should attend his funeral in a few days. End of Story.

  13. Ronny says:

    How very sad it is to read some of the garbage that comes from the sick minds of some of your readers. What a bunch of sickos.

  14. E says:

    Coming from being an victim of abuse and now helping others, both men and women getting away from their abusers. I am glad that the TA is taking actions to rectify the situation. But for many of out there that have been abused and read the article it showed us yet again that when it comes to situations like this, we are blamed. Our abusers men and women both are often in good standing in the community but behind closed doors they are monsters. But because they are pillars to the community no one believes us when we say we are being hurt. It telling that whenever I read the paper about every other crime I never see anything glowing about the criminal but I wonder why was the reporting on this one so different? The accolades alone made it seem like the reporter was trying to get him a seat on some sort of board.

  15. Pablo says:

    Reading the original story, there was a great deal of what is called “reporter’s voice” in the piece. A murder is not an opportunity to be creative and pithy with one’s writing. And why did the school district feel the need to issue a statement about the killer being a great person? How about “no comment at this time” ?
    Sadly, many newspapers believe they must get comments from everyone involved in such events, to add color, instead of staying with the facts.

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