On Sunday afternoon, like millions of others around the world, I found out that NBA megastar Kobe Bryant had been killed in a devastating helicopter crash. Making the story even more tragic is that his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was with him — and she perished as well. Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, had three other children, the youngest of whom is not even a year old. Vanessa now has the pain of losing both her husband and one of her children, and that’s not even the worst of it.
In a press conference, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office slammed TMZ for breaking the news of the Bryants’ deaths… before the families even had a chance to be notified. “There was wide speculation as to who their identities are, however, it would be entirely inappropriate right now to identify anyone by name until the coroner has made the identification through their very deliberative process, and until they’ve made notifications to next of kin,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, adding, “It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved ones perished and you learned about it from TMZ. That is just wholly inappropriate. So we’re not going to be going there.”
While many are understandably outraged by this, I believe it hits those of us in the military community even harder, because it’s a pain we can empathize with all too well.
Civilians may not fully understand what the notification process is like after someone is injured or killed, but everything is supposed to be organized, down to the second. As soon as the casualty takes place, the unit is supposed to go silent, with no calls or e-mails going out or in. Meanwhile, a Casualty Assistance Calls Officer, or CACO, is sent to the home of everyone on the next-of-kin list, and they coordinate their timing so that everyone is notified at exactly the same time, down to the minute. This, in theory, is how it’s supposed to work. But unfortunately, that’s not always what happens. Troops who are deployed might get the word out before communications are locked down, and in this age of social media, it’s not unusual for a wife or a mom to blab on Facebook or Twitter.
This is something I have firsthand experience with through my husband’s unit. My husband went on four combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marine Corps, and on one of those deployments, several wives announced on Facebook that a Marine had been killed before the family had been notified. None of the wives who ran their mouths on social media could be bothered to attend the battalion memorial service, of course — because like TMZ, announcing to the world that someone has died before their family has been told has nothing to do with respect for the fallen, and everything to do with making oneself look special and in-the-know.
No one, and I mean no one, should have to find out their loved one died because a self-centered person wanted sympathy on Facebook, or because a giant media outlet like TMZ callously decided that getting clicks was more important than the effect this news would have on a still-postpartum woman. For Kobe Bryant specifically, it’s true that he’s a major public figure. But that doesn’t mean that we, the public, own him. He and his family are still entitled to basic dignity and respect, and they were completely robbed of that by TMZ — and for what? So they could be the first to the punch at reporting the news? It’s despicable, and even worse, has largely gone unnoticed. No one seems to care that Bryant’s family had to find out on the news that their husband, father, and son were killed.
Remember Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. And pray for his family, who is going through the worst experience of their lives, made only worse by the disgraceful, shameful behavior of media hounds who treated their deaths as a vehicle to pad their own pockets even further.