This was written by a woman who was raised here and shares her concerns as a journalist about how her hometown should be treated in the wake of the school hostage situation here yesterday.

By Jessica Opoien,

Posted on November 30, 2010

  • jessica-opoien by Jessica Opoien
  • I’m wearing purple today. I’m wearing purple because that’s what I can do from 469 miles away.

    Yesterday, a 15-year-old student held a class hostage at Marinette High School, in Marinette, Wis. Armed with two firearms and a knife, the student kept 25 students (some were released throughout the day) and a teacher confined to the classroom for more than five hours.

    Marinette High School. That’s my high school. Purple and white, the colors of the Marinette Marines. Valerie Burd, the social studies teacher who’s been an invaluable part of my life since the seventh grade — and who has been so important to so many other students over the years.

    What were his motives? I don’t know. How does a 15-year-old obtain those deadly weapons? I don’t know. Now that Sam Hengel has died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, we may never know.

    These, and many other questions, will be raised in the days and weeks to come. And as I anticipate the media storm that’s bound to hit, I cringe with frustration.

    Journalism is my calling — my love. But there’s a (fine-lined) difference between journalism and media frenzy, and I fear the frenzy will outrank in this situation. So, in the aftermath, I find myself with the overwhelming urge to wrap my hometown in a hug and tell my big, bad profession to just back off and leave it alone — and, if they’re going to press on, to get it right.

    Do you know what it’s like to watch your hometown turn into an international story? It’s surreal to watch your high school’s name splayed first across local media, then state outlets, until you’re reading a story about the place that housed your high school classes and Homecoming dances in the New York Times.

    To do this, and then try to separate your feelings as a journalist from your feelings as an alum, as a member of the community, who’s taking it all in from a college that’s a state away — it’s damn near impossible.

    I won’t criticize any news outlet’s handling of the hostage situation as it unfolded. Everyone did the best they could with the resources they had, to provide information to a very concerned public.

    But this story I found, from WFRV — usually, my Wisconsin news station of choice — epitomized everything that makes me sick about the way this story is likely to unfold. “Social media plays big role in Marinette hostage information,” the headline reads.

    They’re right, of course. It did play a big role. It played a huge role in spreading misinformation and rumors, which resulted in several false reports of deaths and injuries. (Update: the outlet that got the social media story right was my hometown paper, the Eagle Herald).

    Was social media helpful in some ways? Sure. But WFRV’s story is an example of updating for the sake of updating — of scraping together a story when there’s nothing else to say.

    And that’s the kind of attitude that won’t do anything but add more grief to a town that is shaken and shocked to its core.

    I imagine, as the morning “news” shows start making calls and circling in to get their piece of this tragic puzzle, that a few stories and angles will emerge, aside from the obvious Five W’s. Because, when you report on a tragedy in a small community — unless you are that community’s journalism outlet — you simply can’t do it justice. That truth is evident in the Marinette, Wis./Menominee, Mich. Eagle Herald’s coverage — one of the only publications that have really done it right, so far. Others can only skim the surface or tell a few disjointed pieces of the story. And that’s what worries me. What keeps me up, sick to my stomach, at 2 a.m. (At least, that is what I tell myself. But the cause could quite likely be the gravity of this entire situation).

    I see the following angles and approaches emerging:

    1) The heroic teacher. Certainly, this is a valid story. She’s nothing short of heroic, and I could write pages about the good she did in this situation, about the good she’s done for me and so many other students. About how she’s the best possible person to handle a situation like this. But this heroic teacher will not want the attention that will come, inevitably, with the media storm that hits. So maybe this is me being too attached, too involved in the situation — but I think her privacy ought to be respected.

    2) Interviews with people who don’t know what they’re talking about. You know how it goes. The people who know the story aren’t going to open up to just any member of the press, and the ones who are excessively willing to talk won’t have a clue of what they’re talking about. And some media outlets won’t know the difference.

    3) Why weren’t authorities called until shortly before 4 p.m. if the classroom was taken hostage between 1:30 and 2 p.m.? That’s an excellent question. But the answer comes in the form of another question. How could anyone have known? The sad truth is, all the elements at play here are incredibly conducive to this situation staying under wraps for as long as it did. The class was watching a movie. The lights were off. The door was shut. How could anyone on the outside know something was wrong? The pieces came together slowly, and authorities acted swiftly as soon as they discovered the danger.

    4) Finger-pointing. I wasn’t there. Most of the people who will provide commentary on the situation weren’t there either. The facts are emerging, slowly — but they’re not all there, yet. Give it time.

    Consider this my plea, to the big, bad media outlets across the state and country about to swarm, to tread carefully. Do your jobs as journalists, and do them well. Be sensitive and compassionate. Seek truth and report it, and minimize harm, as the SPJ Code of Ethics would have you do.

    As for me, I’m heartened by the way my community has banded together in the face of tragedy. Marinette, hold on to one another, and let this tragedy strengthen your ties. I’m heartened by my friends here at Iowa State, who have been inspired to reach out to their loved ones in light of this reminder of life’s fragile nature.

    Because this could have happened in any town. It happened in mine, yesterday.

    So, today, I’m wearing purple. Because it’s all I can do, from here.

    The community is in shock today after the hostage situation here yesterday.  Students are home from school, counselors are talking to anyone who needs help coping, parents are wondering how to keep our kids safe, law enforcement is trying to figure out what happened.  Shock.  Chaos.  Hurt.  Sadness.  Maybe some anger.

    Who at?  I’m not sure.  The gunman?  Maybe a little, but he was still just a boy with a lot of hurt and unexpressed feelings  bottled up inside.  But why?  What caused him so much pain?  I keep coming back to the question “how does something like this happen?”  Was there something someone should have seen?  Why didn’t he talk to somebody?

    From all accounts he was smart and well-liked.  He wasn’t a troublemaker.  Basically your average 15 year old boy.  What happens to his parents now?  How do they cope? What about his brothers? 

    I hope that they lean on God.  Because He was there.  He heard, and He listens.


    Sometimes I am blown away by other people’s creativity.  I am amazed when someone elevates a certain art to levels I never thought could be reached.  I feel that way about my fellow artist Laurie Ceesay.  She’s from my town, and we’ve gotten to know each other from The Old Church Gallery, where we both have our artwork.  I have a wall piece of hers I have previously written about that I absolutely love.  Laurie has taken the genre of art quilting to the most amazing level I could imagine.  Every time I see a new quilt of hers, I am in awe of her talent!  The quilt pictured above is entitled “Hera and Aphrodite” and won 2nd Place in the Marquette MI “Autumn Comforts” Quilt Show held in October of this year. You can read all about her inspiration for this piece and how she created it on her blog.

    She has a new website I encourage you to visit.  It will inspire you!  Laurie’s website can be seen at

    I think I need to go make some jewelry now!

    I was thinking the other day while I was watching my vibrating polisher work on my tarnished Sterling Silver beads.  It’s almost hypnotic the way the process works.  Through the use of stainless steel shot of various sizes and shapes in water (and a little soap), this machine agitates and uses high-speed oscillation to polish the silver clean.  The stainless steel media, some of it pointy and sharp, some of it rounded, works it’s way repeatedly into every nook and cranny of the beads especially the spots where a polishing cloth could never reach.  The process is not a passive one – the beads and shot move continuously and wear on each other during the cycle in a frantic cleansing dance.

    We, too, cannot be improved without trouble and agitation.  Trials and problems wear on us like the polishing media does on the beads.  Sometimes we may get pulled under the surface and feel like we’ll never surface again.

    But we do finally emerge, shinier and polished – and better for having made it through the polishing process as shinier beads and stronger people.

    Do Interesting Things…

    November 22, 2010

    “Whatever you dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” – Goethe

    Post written by Leo Babauta

    We live in interesting times. We’re blessed that way.

    The world is changing rapidly.

    The way we work is changing, the way we live has already changed. Entire industries are crumbling, and more are growing on their ruins. People are empowered to express themselves, to create, to become a part of a global conversation and transformation, in a way that has never existed before.

    What will you do with that?

    What will your place be in this new, interesting world? Will you have a voice? Will you be a creator, or just a consumer?

    Do something.

    Do something interesting.

    Be a part of the conversation, and say something remarkable. Create something unique, new, beautiful. Build upon the works of others and transform it into your own.

    How to do this?

    Write a book. Or an ebook. Write poetry and publish it on the web. Create interesting, lovely or funny videos, put them on You Tube. Be passionate. Write a web app that will solve a problem in people’s lives. Become a watchdog to replace the faltering newspapers. Explore the world, and blog about it. Try something you’ve always been afraid to try, and put it on video. Be yourself, loudly. Start a new company, doing only one thing, but doing it very well. Start a business that does a service you’ve always wanted, or that you are frustrated with in other companies because the service sucks. Put your heart into something. Say something that no one else dares to say. Do something others are afraid to do. Help someone no one else cares to help. Make the lives of others better. Make music that makes others want to weep, to laugh, to create. Inspire others by being inspiring. Teach young people to do amazing things. Write a play, get others to act in it, record it. Empower others to do things they’ve never been able to do before. Read, and read, and then write. Love, and love, and then help others to love. Do something good and ask others to pass it on. Be profound. Find focus in a world without it. Become minimalist in a world of dizzying complexity. Reach out to those who are frustrated, depressed, angry, confused, sad, hurt. Be the voice for those without one. Learn, do, then teach. Meet new people, become fast friends. Dare to be wrong. Take lots and lots of pictures. Explore new cultures. Be different. Paint a huge mural. Create a web comic. Be a dork, but do it boldly. Interview people. Observe people. Create new clothes. Take old stuff and make new stuff from it. Read weird stuff. Study the greats, and emulate them. Be interested in others. Surprise people. Start a blog, write at least a little each day. Cook great food, and share it. Be open-minded. Help someone else start a small business. Focus on less but do it better. Help others achieve their dreams. Put a smile on someone’s face, every day. Start an open-source project. Make a podcast. Start a movement. Be brave. Be honest. Be hilarious. Get really, really good at something. Practice a lot. A lot. Start now. Try.

    Inspired by the doblog.


    We had a great time making beaded snowflakes at yesterday’s class held at The Old Church Gallery in Cedar River, Michigan.  Carlyn Lynch opened up the gallery for us to have our classes and we soaked up the heat while beading lots of wonderful snowflakes. 

    The interesting thing about these classes for me is how much I learn from the students.  Sometimes I think I have seen every possible color combination of beads possible, and then you see what other people put together and get inspired all over again!  What fun.

    Nativity Art Exhibit…

    November 16, 2010

    Nativity Art Exhibit

    Sponsored by Menominee Area Arts Council

    Saturday, December 4, 10 am – 4 pm

    First Presbyterian Church, corner of 10th Ave & 5th Street, Menominee, MI

    Advent season display of nativities (creche) from around the world.  Hands on art activities for the young and young at heart.  Seasonal music by local musicians.  Christmas books and refreshments.

    And this year, Sweet Annie’s Jewelry will be displaying her Christian line of jewelry at the Nativity Exhibit!  I have done Salvation Jewelry, Twenty-third Psalm Jewelry and more for years, but I have been inspired to create some new designs for this year, plus I’m going to feature some beautiful Nativity Sterling Silver Charms will a Swarovski Crystal accent as a keepsake.

    It promises to be an uplifting and inspiring day…join us if you can!

    This is a great article by Jim Palmer of  Divine Nobodies .  A friend sent it to me, so I don’t know if it was on his blog or in a devotional, but it means a lot to me and I wanted to share it.  He breaks the things he learned down into  six items, and I will share each of these with you individually.

    “Things I’ve learned in my emotional pain”    by Jim Palmer

    By far this has been the most painful year of my life.  Heartache, loss, depression, loneliness, rejection, separation, despair, 2 near-death experiences and emotional pain so deep that it felt like I was going to die and hoped I would.  There were days I wondered if I was going to make it, felt hopeles,s and doubted if life could ever be good again.  I learned a few things about emotional pain in the process.

    Here are six things to consider when in deep emotional pain:

    1.  You are making it more real than it really is.

    When in deep or catastrophic emotional pain, be aware that what you feel isn’t entirely real. Your emotional pain will sometimes tell you things that are not true, and prevent you from seeing aspect of the bigger picture from which you could draw hope.  This times I have been in deep emotional pain it felt like I was going to literally die or that I wanted to die.  It felt as if nothing else existed other than the unbearable anguish of my emotional pain.  I couldn’t imagine anything beyond the depth of my pain in that moment, and it felt like I was going to be swallowed whole by it.  I couldn’t conceive of surviving the pain and it felt like it would never end. 

    The fact that I am writing this post means that my emotional pain didn’t kill me.  Typically, emotional pain doesn’t kill people.  I survived to see another day.  The emotional pain subsided.  Sure, it came back.  But then it also subsided again.  You can’t really trust the depth of despair you often feel in deep emotional pain.  What it feels like doesn’ t really line up with reality.  So, just keep that in mind.  It won’t kill you.  It is not permanent.  There is something worth embracing and living outside your pain even though you are entirely blinded by it in the moment.

    Thought For the Day

    November 13, 2010

    “The future doesn’t lie ahead of you, waiting to happen. It lies deep inside you waiting to be discovered. Be a Dreamer. Be Dangerous.” Gilda Radner

    Closet Diva…

    November 4, 2010


    I have always blamed it on the fact I was the only girl with four brothers.  Testosterone flowed freely at my house.  No matter what the subject, I was overruled.  My childhood was dotted with family gatherings to watch vulnerable animals being chased down on “Wild Kingdom,” and family night consisted of popcorn and All Star Wrestling on TV.  My wardrobe was hand me downs from the guys (on the plus side, I had more worn-in Levi’s than any other girl in school!)  I had a “pixie” haircut.  We had 1 bathroom, and God forbid I should leave something girly around.  Even my Mom, bless her heart, had too much to do to indulge in a lot of girliness.

    It was only natural I would turn into a Closet Diva.

    I started buying teen fashion magazines before anyone else.  I started spending my money on makeup and sending for every cologne sample the magazines offered.  I didn’t have money or opportunity to buy clothes, but I learned how to sew in the ninth grade and never looked back! 

    My first real job was as a retail salesperson in a mall store, and the rest is history.  Can you say clothing discount???? I worked up to retail assistant manager after a stint in Cosmetology school, and yet my worship of everything fashion and beauty wasn’t quenched.  I had the wardrobe, I did hair, what was left?

    The answer came when my children were small.  I began making jewelry.  I have now been in business 9 years and have been very successful at it.  I had to start selling it because I became so addicted to buying beads and making jewelry that I needed an outlet! 

    Now if I could just learn to make shoes….

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