Things the Media and Public Don’t Know about Crime Victims


In the very beginning when you suddenly become the victim of a violent crime, it is a bit like wearing your shoes on the wrong feet. Nothing fits. It’s foreign and uncomfortable. You don’t know where to turn. You think the police, the detectives, the prosecutor will make your case the highest priority. You are ambivalent about media coverage, for you want everyone to know balanced against your need to maintain privacy. What you don’t know can hurt you. My former blog,  “A New Normal” explains further. 

Although each case is unique in it’s own way, each has commonalities.  There are no “Hints from Heloise” or a 2017 version by Emily Post’s great, great granddaughter “How to Act Around a Crime Victim.” There really should be a guide to be scoffed up by the public with each and every violence act which is becoming part of our new reality- whether crazed and disgruntled or terrorist. We need practical tools!

In the absence of such a guide that fits most criminal acts, some things are obvious, but often blatantly ignored by the media and a public who gleans its information from television.

A short laundry list of do’s and don’ts 

  • Should the media pick up a story on a wire service or social media, due diligence and care should be taken to ensure that law enforcement has made contact with and notified the family prior to releasing information to the public. As we know, particularly with the introduction of social media and our current President’s penchant to Tweet, is it nearly impossible to maintain that “respectable distance, as the lives of a crime victim’s family  are changing forever? I think that effort and respect must be shown, first and foremost!  As a family member who learned of my father’s death via a newspaper article, the horror of learning in this manner was indescribable!   
  • Do not focus your entire story on the violent act and never or barely mention that there are victims, fatalities and those injured.  This is HUGELY IMPORTANT to families who are shocked and offended that their beloved family member gets virtually no coverage whatsoever for the sake of “selling the news.” Although we understand that a victim’s identity cannot be released initially, good journalists do not have to depend upon sensationalism to grab attention;
  • The victim’s frailties, demons, or  mistakes should not define the story and color public perception. Should it be that after a thorough investigation, the victim’s  lifestyle or habits did indeed contribute to the end, so be it. But, it does the surviving family no favors to dwell on that aspect of the person’s life;
  • Do we even need to say, it, Get the facts correct before you publish? Even simple things such as misidentifying a victim by name (as happened with us on local news) can be very disrespectful, If your media  boss is the “get it at any cost,” leave and find another employer with integrity;
  • Don’t spontaneously run up to a distraught victim in a public setting with your phone, microphone or camera and say, “How do you feel? This is a moronic question.  Don’t expect family members to say anything that will adequately convey their feelings. It is intrusive!  Rather, it would be better to quietly seek out an approved family representative who may give an approved statement such that  it does not compromise the investigation.

Family should be counseled to not provide extemporaneous statements to the press just because…

  • Law enforcement attorneys, TV personalities and reporters all engage in this one-No matter where a case is in the span of time, never say that the family is looking for “closure.” Closure implies a finality to homicide. In fact, finality is never truly possible, as lives are irreparably changed and families pass into a different phase of coping.Rather, a more accurate way to describe this process is one of resolution, no matter if the outcome is positive or tragic.
  • Never ask a crime victim, Is it time to move on with your life? Even if a person is stuck in their grief, such a comment implies that their loved one is no longer worthy of public attention!  If family members appear to be passionate in their quest by becoming an advocate for others, recruiting help for their case, doing research on their own, focusing on publicizing the case or holding events to increase awareness, this should not be viewed as “an obsession ” In fact, it can be quite the opposite – Posttraumatic growth (PTG) is positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning.
  • If you are a media representative or a concerned family member, do consult with a professional counselor trained in dealing with trauma if you are going to be interacting with victims. In addition, seek out the help of a good support group facilitator for homicide survivors. I highly recommend Connecticut based-Survivors of Homicide.


Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before.”

(Mary) Elizabeth Edwards, former attorney, health care advocate, wife of NC Senator John Edwards, who died from breast cancer in December, 2010.




To schedule Donna R. Gore for your next conference, seminar or event, please contact ImaginePublicity.Phone: 843-808-0859 or Email:

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Putting on the Band-Aid for Life  



A colleague mentioned how trying it is to have to put a band-aid on “an ouchy” of a toddler where there was never a mark in the first place. When I thought about it, it seemed like this little gesture of compassion for the sake of a child could be a metaphor for life.

There are many types of people in the world. There are the drama queens – histrionic people with an over-exaggerated sense of everything in hopes of getting and keeping attention. There are the risk takers who truly live by the adrenaline pump with their behaviors – extreme sports, daredevil acts in hopes of achieving that ever higher goal “just because it’s there” as they clearly find everything else in life totally mundane. There are also those of us who by normal standards have been through hell and back and still function well because of an extraordinary amount of resilience.

Crime victims either excel at resilience with some practice or they bask in their victimhood and are never able to graduate to a new normal. I have written much on this topic in the past and at times, marvel at my ability to personally tolerate stuff that others could never approach. There is a danger in developing this sense of taking in the pain of others all the time. You can do so selectively and intensely feel that which you relate to best, or at the other extreme, become intolerant of the little annoyances of life that non-crime victims experience.

Do I really care that your computer crashed, that you can’t find your car keys, that your dog ate your new slippers? Not really. It is a sense of perspective and using your personal life experience as a yardstick. This can be dangerous, as a person who has experienced much trauma in life can be perceived as uncaring toward others. I have survived and succeeded because I try to concentrate on the big stuff. (and also have a sense of detail and organization to maintain control.) When the little stuff happens to me though, I am my own worst enemy with absolutely no patience.

I fear that there is a massive dumbing down taking place in our American culture in many aspects –an oversimplification of intellectual issues to find life more palatable.

As I write this, we have sustained yet another massive assault on human life in the Orlando tragedy that has many layers of the onion still to be analyzed.  It would be unfair of any of us to oversimplify. However, we all do it daily so that we might carry on.

The key to life is balance and respecting others.  I have to secretly remind myself sometimes that the fact that someone’s dog that ate the slippers is traumatic to them, if not to me. We have to give everyone his or her band-aid after all. Some of us wear big band-aids for life while others wear them temporarily.  However, as crime invades more and more of our lives, in a sad way, we are coming together with more in common every day.

I hope that if we are perpetually headed for the dark side, we can also relish the good and come together in solidarity.   All of us need to pay attention to the big and little traumas, while putting them in perspective for a healthier existence. And… just maybe the toddler with a non-existent trauma is smart…as he/she is getting prepared for life.

And She Said…. “I Can Find Another Job…I Can’t Find Another Sister”

From left to right: Maureen Brainard-Barnes’s sister, Melissa Cann; Amber Costello’s sister, Kimberly Overstreet; Megan Waterman’s mother, Lorraine Ela; Melissa Barthelemy’s mother, Lynn; and Shannan Gilbert’s mother, Mari.  

(Photo: Mary Ellen Mark)

Melissa “Missy” Cann carries on valiantly….. contending with multiple life tragedies…    She is a mother, wife, sister, supportive friend and volunteer.  But, who could have known that she would literally and figuratively walk the path where the Long Island Serial Killer stalked and ultimately killed his victims?   She could not have known… nor was she prepared for this journey!

However, Missy has willingly taken a “crash course” in crime victimization like no other…  Her mission is to raise reward money for other victims and their families…     But more importantly, she seeks accuracy, and respect from the media and the general public when speaking about these victims! 

Listen to interview with Melissa Cann: CLICK HERE

We at “Shattered Lives” chose to put the spotlight on the positive aspects of Maureen Brainard- Barne’s life…. Because she deserves it… and because it’s the right thing to do….

What You Will Learn From this “Shattered Lives” episode:

  • Why Missy is “going the extra mile” for other victims of the L.I. Serial Killer;
  • Maureen- a portrait of a budding poet and lyricist; “Hug-A-War not Tug –A-War;”
  • Staying in touch with the other families… like her “Morning Coffee;”
  • Candlelight Vigils – past and in the future…;
  • The Mission with Crimestoppers that Drives Missy;
  • Planning for the Future with “Stunts 4Justice” []
  • Names Mean Something….  A report card on the media and theories of  “Amateur Super Sleuths” (Fear versus Rumor);
  • Maureen’s early life…;
  • Missy’s sources of support…. How she keeps going…;
  • The importance of taking care of yourself- juxtaposed with “Doing for others more than you doing for yourself;”
  • Missy’s personal goals… “If I can save one person…;”
  • How to help: Crimestoppers and the Suffolk County Police Department;;

  • What is the greatest need for the group of surviving families?
  • Great idea –   A new support group in the future!
  • New crime victims – When and how to reach out versus the “downward spiral;”
  • The trip to Time’s Square by Missy’s husband and brother… “When Something is Wrong, you just Have to React;”
  • Missy’s Personal Tragedy at age 21- The Accident… “The Middle Child Who Almost Wasn’t;” and Waking Up with her Sister, Maureen at her side…;
  • The NamUS Conference in Connecticut ;;
  • Help is Needed… to Plan other Events….. Get Involved!
  • Presenting the $30,000 Check at Summer’s End;
  • Missy’s parting message….  Be persistent… Be the Voice for those who are missing!
  •  What Imagine Publicity and “Ladyjustice” have to offer you….


Melanie I. Rieger’s Legacy Continues to Blossom

Melanie Rieger Conference,Donna R. Gore, LadyJusticeA social work major whose former mission included helping the elderly, those who frequented soup kitchens …and even stray animals was murdered on May 24, 1994.  Her life was snuffed out in a horrific manner.  She was strangled and then stuffed in a gym bag by an ex-boyfriend whose state of mind was, “If I can’t have her… no one else will.”   Melanie’s memory now stands taller than the Empire State building, thanks to her parents who have built a symbolic edifice with a strong foundation.  Inmate 23062 cannot shake the will of this family to continue to provide information and enlightenment about crime victimization as only they can…. The Melanie Ilene Rieger Memorial Conference is significantly different in that it is a Conference sponsored and managed by survivors of crime for other crime victims first and foremost, service providers, law enforcement, faculty and students.  As Sam Rieger states, “They leave changed forever and come back again and again.”

It’s been 18 years since the intimate partner homicide occurred… and we are on the doorstep of the 16th Annual Conference on May 30-31st, entitled, “Resilience after Devastation –Putting the Pieces Back Together.”  When one compares the enthusiasm and compassion of a budding 19-year-old, how does that compare to an educational conference?  We would rather have Melanie here, no doubt.    However, this conference has been life changing for the masses across the nation.  What better tribute can a family give to their beloved daughter?  Ladyjustice can think of no better legacy… When you try to quantify the loss, there isn’t much available for crime victims in Connecticut… or in any state for that matter.  As we see domestic violence/intimate partner homicide rise to epidemic proportions, we must not stand still and shake our heads.

Listen to SHATTERED LIVES: Resilience After the Devastation, with guests, Sam and Wanda Rieger:


The Frustrations:

  • Prosecutors say that represent “the State”, not the murder victim  and not the family;
  • Counseling sessions are limited to six (to be divided among their immediate family of four – 1, 5 sessions per person?) ;
  • The perpetrator appears to have most of the legal rights;
  •  Victimized families become stigmatized, as Initial supporters, friends and family may fall away from the situation, saying, “It’s time to move on.”  But you can’t….
  • In the Rieger’s case, a multitude of needless Habeas Corpus Appeals have occurred.    A 2010 article from http://www.Hartford stated:  “These are the two poles of an ongoing debate over when and how often convicted prisoners should be allowed to exercise the constitutionally guaranteed right of habeas corpus.

The U.S. Supreme court has called the right of prisoners to demand a review of their convictions a “fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action.” Civil liberty activists argue restrictions on that right endanger all our freedoms. Crime victims and their families tell stomach-turning stories of being repeatedly called to testify in habeas hearings years after convictions, of never knowing when the horror of a rape or murder will finally be put to rest. “We were victimized by the perpetrator and now, for the past 16 years, we’re being victimized by the criminal justice system,” says Samuel Rieger, whose daughter Melanie was killed by Crespo in her Waterbury home. “In our case, there’s absolutely no new information,” Rieger argues. “He’s admitted he’s guilty. There’s enough evidence to put him away for a hundred years.” Prosecutors say Crespo isn’t an isolated case. They estimate 20 percent of all habeas petitions involve repeat filings.

Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane says the backlog of more than 1,000 habeas cases now pending in Connecticut’s system is not only unnecessarily costly and often painful for victims and their families, but that it is also delaying justice for the wrongly convicted. He told the 2010 General Assembly only 14 of the thousands of habeas petitions filed in the past 18 years have resulted in new trials. But state officials estimate Connecticut is spending more than $6 million a year on prosecutors, public defense lawyers and court costs to review and litigate the 600 habeas petitions being filed annually.Sam Reiger tells us that Inmate 23062 has filed 7or 8 appeals to date…more appeals than in mandated death penalty cases.

  • Although there are individual supporters and small underfunded agencies that try to assist, by and large, legislators and those in the Executive branch of government are “lukewarm” at best on crime victim issues, particularly when budgets are in the red.  The amount of time spent during legislative hearing and the “protocol” that must be followed for your “3 minutes up at bat” hardly seems worth it.   And if you don’t wait all day for your three minutes…they think you’re not interested!

Family Life:  Sam was a professor of Chemistry… and returned to work just three weeks after they lost Melanie.  But, he did not have the stamina to withstand everything crashing in on his world as he once knew it.  The Rieger’s owned and managed a successful travel agency.  Wanda told of how she returned two or three months later…with the knowledge that her clients knew of their loss which was very difficult.

The Turning Point:  As a mother, Wanda was rightfully so grief-stricken that she could not get out of bed… She wanted to die with her daughter.  Finally one day, her Aunt called and asked whether she had a court appearance? (one of many, many to come).  Wanda replied, “Yes, but I can’t.” Her Aunt ordered her out of bed, to get dressed and go to court, saying, “Who’s going to represent your daughter?”  It was that moment in time, in which Wanda summoned the courage and the resolve to always be present at every court appearance… and to do whatever it took!  This is what every mother would do for their children…eventually.  Wanda did return to work and although they sold the business, they continue to operate from their home.  Sam is retired.  Their son, four years older than Melanie, is also a college professor.  And then….. there’s the joy of two beautiful granddaughters that make each day worth living!

Why Go the Melanie Ilene Reiger Memorial Conference?

Just a few of many reasons as told by Sam and Wanda:

  • The conference brings issues to light which were hidden;
  • It offers the victim’s perspective capturing the emotional aspects, the true feelings that are conveyed and the education is imparted;
  • The information and stories told “open up the mind” of service providers;
  • They present all types of victims – some controversial….. such as David Kaczynski, who returns each year to offer his story as a different kind of victim.   The amazing part of David’s ordeal was that he, in fact, turned his brother in to the authorities and never suspected his brother’s activities or degree of mental illness as they were growing up.  After David covered his brother’s (Ted Kaczynski’s “The Unabomber”) legal fees of $250,000, he gave the remaining $750,000 reward to victim’s families.  Some families were repulsed, others benefitted.
  •  Sam invited the controversial parents of Casey Anthony and received threats….. Ultimately it did not work out in the end for other reasons…
  • Other well-known survivors of crime presenters have included:  Denise Brown, Nancy Grace, Marc Klass, Dorothy Moxley, Rachel Lloyd …and many others over the years…;

The Future: When asked if he has hope for the future regarding victims of domestic violence/intimate partner homicide, Sam said there is always hope…. However, recent examples prove again and again that law enforcement and legislators are not paying attention.  The effort is not being front loaded toward prevention where it should be…instead we are just “picking up the pieces” of more devastated families.

***Ladyjustice offers this very useful tool to assist in preventing future intimate partner homicides via Susan Murphy Milano’s Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit© and soon to be available Apple App.       Go to (

Due to state and federal cuts, this conference has struggled financially.  In view of the very reasonable all –inclusive registration fee of $50.00, they gratefully accept monetary donations.  For more information go to:

Dr. Samuel L. Rieger

Melanie Ilene Rieger Memorial Foundation

P.O. Box 368

Watertown, CT 06795

Hope to see you in May!