Local tragedy in national eye



Published:  January 3, 2003
Last Updated: April 21, 2003, 03:34:04 PM PDT

The disappearance of mom-to-be Laci Peterson has brought out the best in many people -- and a little of the worst and weirdest.

Hundreds of people, many of whom had never met Laci, have stepped forward to help. They've walked streets and shopping centers to hand out and post fliers. They've ridden and walked along stream banks and through fields. They attended a New Year's Eve vigil or a benefit breakfast on New Year's morning.

They responded with dismay and concern because something has happened to one of our own, a pregnant woman at that, and on Christmas Eve. These compassionate people represent the things we value.

Not a lot, but too many people have been behaving like boors. These are the people driving past her house, for no reason other than to ogle. One of the worst of them yelled out his car window, speculating as to her fate and the person responsible.

Some have called and e-mailed The Bee, suggesting where her body might be found, even though they have nothing meaningful to offer.

If I seem a little sensitive, there's a reason: I'm a little closer to this story than to most.

Laci and Scott Peterson live nearby. I don't know them, but I have seen them in the neighborhood. Some of the witnesses in this mystery are my friends. Right now, they are weary, frazzled, even scared.

It's bad enough to live in the midst of a disappearance and a major burglary. Now, some of my "colleagues" in the national media are hounding these Modestans.

Media attention may help solve this case, but does it have to come in the form of a spectacle? The interest of out-of-town cameras is a painful reminder of the 2001 Condit campout, when camera crews staked out downtown Modesto and the street in front of Chandra Levy's home.

The national media spotted the Modesto dateline on the Laci Peterson story. Reuters, the worldwide news organization, put it right up front, with this: MODESTO, Calif. -- Police and hundreds of volunteers hunted the hometown of murdered intern Chandra Levy on Monday for another missing woman -- this time an expectant mother who disappeared on Christmas Eve while walking her dog.

The coincidental connection to Chandra is one of the reasons newspapers as far away as Florida have carried stories about Laci.

At one of the "news" conferences at the Modesto Police Department, a Bay Area reporter asked whether police thought there might be a connection between the Chandra and Laci cases. The answer: none. Still, the question keeps coming up.

The e-mailed suggestions have been even stranger; I'm not printing them because I refuse to add to the ridiculous speculation.

Anyone with a heart wants Laci Peterson found, ideally safe, with the baby she is carrying OK. We want the person(s) responsible for her disappearance held accountable.

I also want peace for our neighborhood and our community. Modesto is not the epicenter of missing women. We struggle with growth, unemployment and other things, but we are a good and decent place and that's how we want, and deserve, to be known.

Judy Sly's column appears Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays in Local News. She can be reached at 578-2334 or jsly@modbee.com.