There is an infamous axiom that drives the pecking order of stories in the news business: “If it bleeds, it leads.” In other words, the more violent, graphic, tragic, and/or sadistic the item, the better the chances are of it kicking off the broadcast or making its way to a front page.
City editors applied said adage to their broadcasts and front pages on Aug. 2 and Aug. 3 of last year. The vicious demise of Karina Vetrano – the Howard Beach jogger who was beaten, strangled, and sexually assaulted in the evening hours of Aug. 2 on her daily run inside Spring Creek Park – was tailor-made for a tabloid town like the Big Apple. (Editor’s Note: The Vetrano murder also dominated the front page of the Aug. 4, 2016 edition of The Forum.)
Six months later, media outlets also trumpeted the news that a suspect allegedly responsible for the brutal crime was finally in custody. Chanel Lewis, 20, of East New York, has been indicted on 13 counts of murder and sexual abuse.
The tireless efforts of Howard Beach resident and City Police Department Lt. John Russo are, in large part, the reason why Lewis is sitting in a cell on Rikers Island to this day. Russo spent six months poring over records until a name eventually emerged. With this new lead, detectives were able to obtain a DNA sample, linking Lewis to the murder.
Kudos to City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) for recently honoring Russo with a Council Proclamation. Yet this part of the story isn’t sensational enough to be splashed across a tabloid’s front page, or lead a broadcast—but it should. Russo’s police-work deserves top billing. He should be showered with all the praise the greatest city in the world can muster.
This hyper-cynical, jaded world conditions us to be so quick stop the presses for a heinous homicide or when a cop slips up. Why can’t we afford the same first-place attention to a true-blue hero and role model who has, in his own way, helped a family and community begin to heal?
“We’re honoring a hometown hero,” Ulrich said. “He is truly one of New York’s Finest and it’s because of him that we were able to make an arrest in this case, bring about some justice, and hopefully bring about some closure not only for the Vetrano family, but for the community, who also felt the pain that was caused as a result of this heinous crime.”
Typical of a humble hero, Russo has said it’s more about the family and the neighborhood’s families than any accolades.
“We were constantly reminded, just being in the neighborhood, of this unsolved murder,” he said last Wednesday. “I’ve met people that I didn’t know telling me that they were nervous about letting their children out, and now that the case is solved, it’s a little more comfort for everyone.”
On behalf of a scarred, yet grateful Howard Beach: THANK YOU, LIEUTENANT.