In one day I worked on two stories about home invasion robberies. They seem to be occurring more and more in the greater Philadelphia region. I postponed the stories I began earlier that day to review police reports and make phone calls before talking to neighbors.
After I knocked on a handful of doors, I realized that the resident may be nervous about answering their door. Days before the home invasion, they probably would have thought an unfamiliar face at their door was seeking donations or trying to sell something. But now, maybe they were worried about my intentions outside their door. Once they unlocked the door and I identified myself as a reporter, they seemed more trusting. Some came outside and talked to me, or talked with the outer door separating us. They are still cautious about their safety, just as reporters are apprehensive about their own safety.
I don’t know how other reporters feel when they go into the field for a “reaction” story like this. I don’t always feel like I’m setting out for a greater purpose. I’m not there to help. I’m not a police officer collecting information for an investigation. I’m not an EMT providing medical attention to the injured patient. I’m a journalist, asking questions and gathering information for a story. Sometimes as a journalist I have lost sight of how the media can help the public by reporting on the terrible news. We hope that by informing the public that we can help in a small role to prevent bad things from happening to someone else. Or by letting people know if the suspect is on the loose or has been captured. We help by educating the public, with the help of law enforcement officers, pleading with people to be aware of their surroundings, to lock their doors, and what to do when a stranger knocks at your door.
As I went up and down the block, several children answered the door. These young and innocent children had a smile on their face when they saw me – an unfamiliar face in plain clothes. I thought to myself, dear God, these children have no idea what has happened up the street – or for some – a few houses away.
Perhaps parents could use this as a learning opportunity to teach their children not to talk to strangers. Although, reporters talk to strangers for a living, so our occupation is among those that break that rule.
Most of the residents had heard about the attack before I came by asking questions. When people saw me outside their door, they probably thought that if I had bad intentions, then they would have a chance to put up a struggle. One resident I talked to said that the suspects, both described as males in their twenties, attacked elderly victims who are defenseless, while such a criminal would not pick a fight with someone who could defend themselves.
According to police, the one suspect had asked his victim for a drink of water, and then forced his way inside the residence. It makes you wonder if he knocked on a few doors before he picked his victim. In the other case, the District Attorney said the suspect, who in custody, crept up behind the victim as she came home and he knocked her out.
I shadowed a West Chester University police officer when I attended college there, and he said that often times suspects would knock on partially open dorm-room doors hoping no one would answer. Then they would walk in, steal what they could in a matter of seconds to minutes, and then leave. He said if someone answered, they would make up a story about looking for a friend and knocking on the wrong door.
As the Chester County District Attorney would say, the suspects knocked on the wrong door when they came here.