When I made my routine call to the Ocean City Police Department's public information office in May 2002, I had no reason to think I'd hear anything other than reports on noise violations or open container violations, which are quite common in the resort after the Memorial Day weekend kicks off the busy season. That morning, I learned that a vacationing couple had been reported missing. Within days it would become a double murder case that would not only capture the attention of the local public but would also receive national attention.
The job of a journalist is to present the news as a factual objective accounting of events. When I was a reporter, I tried my best to keep a professional detachment from the stories and people I covered. I didn't want my emotions to impact my coverage of the story,believing that to report a story accurately a reporter must keep their emotions at bay.
Just weeks after the murders, I met Joshua Ford's mother, Doris; his brother, Mark; sister-in-law, Debbie; and cousin, Michelle. This close-knit, unassuming Boston family had seen more tragedy in a short time than most families would experience in a lifetime. Mark and Debbie's daughter, Kelly, a young mother, had been murdered just one year earlier, her remains found on a Cape Cod beach. She, too, was the victim of a random killing.
It's one thing to see grieving families on TV; it's quite another to see the bone-deep sorrow in Doris' eyes. She had lost a granddaughter and a son in less than two years. Mark had lost a daughter and a brother. The grief of this family wasn't just an emotion, it was a presence, an inescapable entity in the room. This family had endured so much already. I wondered how they could deal with yet another unimaginable tragedy.
My connection with the Ford family changed me, both professionally and personally. Over the past 10 years, I have been interviewed on several crime reality shows about the case. Some were insightful documentaries, but others seemed focused on the gruesome details, with little regard given to the victims or their families. I was asked more than once if I would write a book about the case. I thought about it but realized I couldn't do it. I've maintained a connection with Joshua's family, and I just couldn't be the person to ask them to relive that terrible time again. Years later, a book would be written by a professional true crime writer. It spared none of the gruesome details.
I have deliberately not mentioned the name of the couple who committed these murders. Their crimes were horrific by any standards. I sat through both trials. One jury got it right; the other got it wrong. So wrong, at sentencing the judge did something extraordinary -- he criticized the jury's nonsensical verdict in open court. Of course, nothing about these murders makes any sense. Only the two killers know what really happened in that Ocean City condo that night -- or which of them (if not both of them) committed the killings. But one thing is clear: Those two are where they belong.
Reporters often write about the sometimes heinous things people do to each other, and most work hard to provide factual accounts that readers analyze with fascination. The horrors of these crimes fade until the next awful thing occurs to take its place. But crime victims are not just names in a newspaper or fodder for a blogger to pick apart their lives. They aren't just numbers to be tabulated at the end of the year as part of crime statistics. They were real people with mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children of their own.
As we mark the 10-year anniversary of these murders, the Ford family will celebrate Joshua's son's high school graduation. His family reports he is a straight-A student who will be starting college in the fall.
This was a major story for a small-town reporter to cover, and I'm proud of the work I did. The awful details certainly captured the public's attention. Today, as the crimes are revisited in the media, I hope the public will remember the victims and also their families, who must live with the worst awfulness of all -- the aftermath.
I know I will never forget them.