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News crime reporters face ugly truths

The little girl wasn't even 2 years old yet, but already, she had become the victim of an armed robbery.

In December 2005, a man walked up to the little one and her mom outside a Buffalo apartment building. He pointed a gun at the mom's chest, and took her purse, with $315 inside. He then grabbed the tiny pink "Disney Princess" purse that the girl was clutching before taking off.

Without a doubt, she was one of the youngest armed robbery victims in Buffalo history. And when people read about it in our newspaper, dozens of them sent cash, Christmas presents and, of course, little pink purses to the girl.

In the scheme of things, it wasn't a huge story, but it was the kind of tale that reminds a crime reporter that we live in a world with a few very bad people, but mostly good people.

Our job has taken us to some very dark corners and showed us some ugly truths about our world, but neither of us have ever regretted working as crime reporters.

Both of us have been newspaper men for 31 years now, and both of us have spent a large portion of our careers reporting on crime. Conservatively, we estimate we've covered close to 10,000 crimes between us.

Those crimes range from relatively minor house burglaries to horrific acts of violence, including a terrorist bombing -- committed by Western New Yorker Timothy McVeigh -- that took the lives of 168 people in Oklahoma City.

We've interviewed all kinds of criminals, including gangsters, drug dealers, child pornographers, illegal gun dealers, child molesters, crooked cops and politicians. We've interviewed their victims, too.

For some reason, a few cases -- like that robbery of the little girl -- stick in our minds. Here are a couple of them:

*A few days before Christmas 1996, Buffalo native Bobby Crawford -- a successful New York City music producer -- was visiting his mother for the holidays. Crawford had brought his wife and three young children for the Buffalo visit.

Someone walked up to him in his mother's driveway on Glenwood Avenue and shot him in the face, killing him. Police never solved the murder. Some detectives theorized that Crawford may have been the victim of a "thrill killing" or some kind of gang initiation. The senselessness of the crime shakes us, almost 12 years later.

*When we were fortunate enough to write a book on McVeigh and the Oklahoma bombing, we met many amazing people who had endured one of the worst terrorism attacks in American history.

In Oklahoma City, we spent many hours with a man named Tom Kight, who lost his beloved stepdaughter in the bombing.

He kept asking us how Bill McVeigh was doing. Bill was Timothy McVeigh's father, and Kight kept telling us how badly he felt for the bomber's dad.

"You tell that man, Bill McVeigh, nobody in Oklahoma City blames him for what happened," Kight said.

Despite his own pain, anger and grief, Kight found it in his heart to show concern for the father of a terrorist killer.

The experiences we've had talking to crime victims and their families have been unforgettable. The usual interaction between a reporter and a crime victim could not be more different than the way it is depicted in many fictional TV shows and movies.

In the fictional version, a crime victim answers her door the morning after her loved ones have been killed. One hundred reporters and photojournalists come charging up to her, barking the most insensitive questions they can come up with. If she refuses, they shout insults.

In real life, it's almost always one reporter nervously ringing a doorbell, apologizing for being there and then politely asking for an interview. If the person refuses, the reporter again apologizes and walks away.

But guess what -- they hardly ever refuse to talk. Most people want to talk about a loved one who has been taken away suddenly. These interviews aren't easy. At times, we shed a few tears with the people we are talking to. And most of them are very appreciative when we write a story that is compassionate and accurate.

Sadly, crime is a part of everyday life in this country. If it were up to us, there would be no more crimes to write about. But it isn't up to us. Crimes do happen, and we do write about them, and the victims.

Crime reporting, when it is done with integrity, is a very honorable profession. We're honored to be part of it.

*News reporters Maki Becker and Michael Beebe have written a true crime book titled "The Bike Path Killler," on the investigation that led to the arrest and conviction of Altemio C. Sanchez in January 2007.

Beebe had been covering the story since the first murder: the rape and strangulation of University at Buffalo student Linda Yalem on Sept. 29, 1990. Becker began covering the case with the last murder -- Clarence mother of four Joan Diver on the 16th anniversary of Yalem's killing.

The book, which is being published by Kensington Books, is due out in the summer.

Dan Herbeck and Lou Michel are the co-authors of "American Terrorist."

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