The Arizona Republic, August 28, 1998
READERS CALL BODY PHOTOS 'DISGUSTING'
By William Hermann
Calls filled with fury, rage and disgust have come in by the hundreds since we ran front-page photos of bodies Tuesday and Thursday.
Tuesday, we ran a 4-column-by-5-inch photograph of a corpse, foot in the foreground, the rest of the body fading into the background. The story was about the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office and its heavy caseload. Thursday, we ran two front-page photos of the torso of Nicholaus Contreraz, whose death at Arizona Boys Ranch last spring helped lead to the institution's being denied a new license Wednesday.
''Those pictures were disgusting,'' said John Busskohl, of Scottsdale. ''My 5-year-old daughter brings in the newspaper. She saw the pictures Thursday and had a lot of questions. We didn't need to be answering those questions.''
Sheila Williams of Cave Creek is a nurse: ''I was absolutely appalled that you would put this on the front page. It was disgusting and made me feel sick. What an awful thing to see without having the option of not seeing it.''
Typically, we don't run photographs of the dead, even though our photographers get them regularly at crime scenes. But in these two instances, Republic editors felt there were compelling reasons to run the photos.
Deputy Managing Editor John D'Anna said, ''We sent photographer Mona Reeder to the morgue several times to work on the pictures for the story on the Medical Examiner's Office. We wanted to minimize what some would think of as the 'gross-out' factor. ''But the problems at the M.E.'s Office are significant and important to the public. We believed it was important to run a photograph that would illustrate the problems.''
D'Anna noted there was ''no way we could know'' that the day after a corpse photo ran on A1, the photos of Contreraz's body would be released. The youth died of complications of empyema of the left chest days after reportedly suffering physical abuse at Boys Ranch. Arizona Department of Economic Security specialists concluded that 17 Boys Ranch employees, including some supervisors, were involved in 32 instances of abuse or neglect involving Contreraz.
Photo Editor Mary Ann Nock brought the pictures of the battered body of Contreraz to D'Anna and Deputy Managing Editor Jeff Dozbaba. They took the photos, and the final decision whether to run them, to Executive Editor Pam Johnson.
''Those were tough pictures to publish,'' Johnson said. ''We debated them. We pursued additional information about what was depicted. We reviewed how they would be displayed.'' Johnson said the gravity of the stories weighed heavily in the decision. ''We never take these decisions lightly, but these were significant news stories, and our business isn't to avoid publishing, it's to publish responsibly,'' she said. ''And I believe we went through all the steps to do just that.''
The calls about the photos came all day. An afternoon explanation to Ellen Lockhart, 36, of Cave Creek, didn't wash.
''I didn't even read the stories because I was so turned off by the photos,'' Lockhart said. ''They were terribly inappropriate.''
Perhaps it would be appropriate to let the relatives of Nicholaus Contreraz have the last word.
Connie Woodward, of Sacramento, is Nicholaus' maternal grandmother. Her rage crackled over the telephone line. ''We feel those pictures should have been shown long ago,'' Woodward said. ''Everyone should have to look at those pictures and see what we got back in place of my grandson.''
Woodward said that on the Friday before Nicholaus died, she spoke with Boys Ranch officials.
''They said Nicholaus was a healthy young man,'' she said. ''Where is my healthy young man now? Look at those pictures. That is where he is.''
Nicholaus' mother, Julia Vega, choked on tears as she spoke.
''I'm very happy those pictures were used,'' she said. ''I wish all the pictures they took of him could be shown, but it would take too many pages in the newspaper to show them.''
Then Vega paused, gasped, breathed deeply, and spoke again.
''God, when you look at the pictures, you think that some bear or terrible animal got ahold of him.
''It's a sight everyone needs to see.''