How many details are too many details regarding teacher’s murder?


I can rest easy now that I know the grim details surrounding the death ofBobs Column - The B Side Brother Rice teacher Al Filan. I feel better now that I’m aware of the sensational specifics that apparently led to his January death at the hands of a prostitute.
Alisha Walker, a 21-year-old prostitute from Ohio, is being charged in Filan’s death. She’s being held without bail in the Cook County Jail and is next expected in court May 28.
I now know, for example, that investigators found multiple ads from an online female escort service on the desk in Filan’s home. Also, the veteran teacher was found under a bay window on his kitchen floor wearing a gray sweatshirt, jeans and brown socks, according to an autopsy report that was reported by other media outlets.
But there’s more.
Filan was found lying face-up with his head resting against the base molding at the bottom of a wall and tilted toward the left shoulder. His hands were resting on his mid-section, his right leg was extended and his left leg was bent at the knee with his foot resting against a chair that had fallen over, the report said.
Not enough?
Well, the report goes on to describe the location of 14 knife wounds and the condition of the body after it was discovered during a Jan. 21 well-being check at Filan’s Orland Park home.
I get it. Reporting the details of an autopsy report is part of an ongoing story when someone allegedly is murdered or dies as a result of suspicious circumstances. It’s part of our job as reporters. And you, as readers, have the right to know what happened.
For instance, the information about the stab wounds Filan incurred are important because Walker contends she acted in self-defense after she and Filan fought over money. The number and location of wounds may support or disapprove her claim in court.
Unfortunately, some enjoy reading these titillating tidbits, which have all the makings of a cable TV movie.
But what about Filan’s family and friends? Do they have no right to privacy? Or must they endure unending media reports about his gruesome death—each and every excruciating detail.
For example, more than one newspaper report led with the information about escort service ads found on Filan’s desk.
Let’s be honest, that’s not the most important detail in the autopsy and police reports, but it’s the most salacious item, so the media plays it up because it implies that Filan regularly sought the services of call girls. Maybe he did, and it clearly is not appropriate conduct for a man teaching at a Catholic high school.
Filan had a weakness, and he paid dearly for it in the end. When the incident occurred, he took a beating on Facebook from a slew of judgmental folks who apparently would be fine with a thorough inspection and public reveal of their private lives.
As a newspaper reporter, I routinely advocate for our rights to inform the public with as much information as possible. We are not public relations or marketing people hired to put a positive spin on story. But we have an obligation to be sensitive and think about the impact our writing will have on others. That responsibility is routinely overlooked.
Maybe I’m too close to the Filan story. I attended Brother Rice High School, where he taught for 40 years. He was my teacher on one occasion, but I did not know him well—had no real affinity for the man. I just think that a man who committed himself to young people both in the classroom and on the athletic field deserves a modicum of respect.
I found one sentence in a Sun-Times story about the autopsy report especially interesting. “Though Filan taught at Brother Rice for nearly 40 years, it was a representative of a nearby hotel in Orland Park where he also apparently worked that contacted police and asked for a well-being check after Filan failed to show up for a Jan. 20 shift, according to the report,” the story said.
Read that sentence carefully and appears to be saying that Brother Rice did not care enough about one of their own to check on their well-being check.
Of course, Jan. 20 was Martin Luther King Day and school was not in session. I’m sure Brother Rice appreciates the subtle insinuation that they did not care enough about Filan to pick up the phone.