In Our Own Backyard...A portrait of the reporter as a young womanEven though you’re only as old as you feel, sometimes it’s hard to escape those little nudges that show time is, indeed, passing by.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
It’s strange to think I’ve been with the Pine Journal (and its predecessor, the Cloquet Journal) for almost 20 years now. When I first started, I was the youngest person on staff. Now I’m the oldest. And other than realizing my taste in music is a bit different than most of the others, and I’m more likely to shop at Dress Barn than Maurices, I don’t feel all that much older than the rest of them.
Every once in awhile, however, something happens to put me in my place. Sometimes I’ll offhandedly mention some old sitcom that none of the others is old enough to remember. Or I use some outdated expression that brings questioning looks to their faces. Then I realize that I was born a full 15 years or more earlier than most of them. It’s a reminder that even though you’re only as old as you feel, sometimes it’s hard to escape those little nudges that show time is, indeed, passing by.
It happened again the other night. After writing an article for last week’s Pine Journal about the 1999 Katie Poirier kidnapping and murder case being featured on a nationally televised investigative series, I was looking forward to seeing it when it aired on Sunday night.
My husband and I settled in on the couch and watched in fascination as the documentary got underway. Program host and famed newswoman Paula Zahn reprised how the young Barnum teen was working at a Moose Lake convenience store late at night before being abducted by a man later identified as Donald Blom. The narrative walked us through all of those horrible hours and days that followed the incident, telling of how Moose Lake Police Chief Dale Heaton responded to the scene and called in the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension after viewing the grainy security tapes that showed Poirier being forcibly removed from the store.
I vividly recall each terrifying detail as it emerged because I was there to report on it, along with a legion of other local, state and national media. The days and weeks that followed were harrowing for everyone involved. There was a sense of hopelessness, because it seemed as though Katie’s chances of being found alive were slipping away right before our very eyes.
One day I found I could stand the inertia no longer and my husband and I, along with one of my newspaper co-workers, took the afternoon off work and traveled to Moose Lake to participate in the search. After gathering with others at the command center, we were loaded on buses and taken to various rural parts of the area, instructed on how to walk a shoulders’ length apart while sweeping over the fields and forests, and briefed on how and what to report if we should came across anything suspicious — which we did. Oh, nothing of great significance — an old button, a flattened patch of weeds, an area with the stench of something rotting. But there was always the sense that at any time one of us might come across something important, something that would help lead to Katie’s whereabouts, but it never came.
The documentary we were watching Sunday night reflected some of that same sense of dread and frustration. Zahn talked about how, after several days had passed without any breakthroughs, Katie’s parents decided to go directly to the media with a heartfelt appeal for information leading to her whereabouts or the identity of her abductor.
The show suddenly panned to a shot of the Poirier family standing before a crowd of television cameras and reporters — and for one fleeting second, there I was on national television!
I was standing in the front row of the circle of media people, reporter’s notebook in hand, diligently scribbling something down as the Poiriers made their statement. In that brief moment, I realized that although the Poirier case seems as though it happened only yesterday, it was actually 14 years ago — and I was 14 years younger than I am now!
I wore a trim, fitted jacket with shoulder pads and wide lapels (the style of the day) and my face wore a serious, almost pensive, expression with no telltale signs of crow’s feet around my eyes. Time had passed, all right, since those early days of my reporting career, but I had to chuckle to myself nonetheless — because there was one thing that hadn’t changed. My hairstyle looked exactly like it does today!