The news media gathers around Tracy Police Sgt. Tony Scheneman during a daily briefing about the Sandra Cantu case on Clover Road in Tracy. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 20mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 200)
Tracy has seen more than its fair share of bad news in recent months. From the teenager who escaped imprisonment and torture to the arrest of a substitute teacher accused of molesting 12 girls at an elementary school to the shooting death of Oakland Police Sgt. Mark Dunakin who was a Tracy resident, the town has tried to cope. The crush of media attention that the city has been having lately can be overwhelming to any city, let alone a small one like Tracy.
News media microphones crowd a stand during a daily Tracy police briefing. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 140mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)
Perhaps it’s part of the reason Tracy residents responded so strongly to the disappearance of Sandra Cantu. Everyone was hoping for a happy ending, longing to see mother and daughter in a joyously tearful reunion. It hit the city all the harder when she was found dead more than a week after initial reports of her going missing.
(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 70mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)
In those first days when the search was on, the local media, including The Record, was called upon to get the word out. Spurred on by those stories, residents showed up in droves to do anything they could to find Sandra and bring her safely home. The stories also reached other media outlets. As the search continued, the number of reporters covering the story grew. TV news vans were replaced by live trucks, which in turn were replaced by satellite trucks. Local television bureau reporters were replaced with ones from their main offices in Sacramento. A small army of print, radio and TV reporters kept watch from outside the mobile home park where Sandra had lived.
(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 80mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)
After the announcement of Sandra’s death, the news media remained at across the street where the Tracy Police held the majority of their press conferences. We covered the city’s mourning for the little girl and continued attending police briefings. We were desperate for any little detail at those twice-daily updates. In truth, the public was too. After a while there were nearly as many ordinary people there as there were news representatives.
Tracy police Sgt. Tony Scheneman holds a press conference across the street from the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park in Tracy. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 125mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)
Sometimes I wonder what the public must think of us when they see us in a pack, seemingly a little like vultures waiting for carrion. Many see reporters only as they are portrayed in TV or movies – or when they see the pack at news conferences that sometimes get out of hand. For the most part, this time around everyone has been pretty well behaved and respectful. I think most reporters and news organizations are aware of that, but part of it is the nature of the beast. People want and need to know every detail that they can, and reporters find out, double-check, and disseminate those facts. Sandra’s story is one that started in hope but turned tragic.
Tracy police Sgt. Tony Scheneman holds a press conference. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)
A suspect has been caught. This week, there will be a public memorial service. Eventually, there will be a possibly long and drawn-out trial. One by one, the news organizations will leave, having done their jobs of getting the story out and the capture of a suspect. Hopefully, there won’t be a need for so much media to descend on Tracy again. Then the city will have time to deal with the sorrow of this tragedy on its own, without the harsh spotlight of the news.