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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

BC death’s Relevance to Brandeis

Published: April 20, 2012
Section: Opinions

Community news coverage must extend beyond the confines of Loop Road to the streets of Waltham. Occasionally, it must extend to other colleges, cities and towns.

We define community broadly at The Hoot and cover it beyond this campus because what happens here is not isolated from what happens in Newton or Weston or Waltham.

When nine Brandeis students were hospitalized for alcohol intoxication on the night of Pachanga in October 2010, for example, local towns suffered a shortage of ambulances. City officials were upset. They had to deploy limited resources to transport drunk Brandeis students to the hospital.

When three men were murdered on Harding Avenue last fall, one of them was a Brandeis alumnus. On a campus where we often write about academic, athletic and extracurricular achievements, it would be easy to pretend that a drug-related homicide is not our business—too off topic to be covered in a student newspaper.

So when Franco Garcia, a 21-year-old Boston College student who worked at a CVS pharmacy in Waltham, went missing in February after a night of drinking with friends at a local bar, like the multitude of Massachusetts media outlets, college students and Garcia’s family members, we were shocked by the case.

Local news is best covered by community newspapers. Just as national newspapers have unique access to interview politicians, students newspapers have unique access to interview students. We can relate to their situations. We understand what college students experience on a daily basis. Life at BC is not far removed from life at Brandeis or any other school in the Boston area. The campus might look different, the classes might vary, the Conte Forum might seat thousands more than Red Auerbach Arena in Gosman, but the issues students face relating to drugs, alcohol, mental health and crime are the same.

Nearly two months after Garcia first went missing at a bar in Cleveland Circle, police divers recovered his body after a passerby noticed it on April 11 in a nearby reservoir—the same reservoir they searched for four days weeks earlier.

The circumstances surrounding Garcia’s death are still unclear. Pending a full toxicology report, initial findings from the autopsy led officials to believe Garcia’s death was an accidental drowning.

But as his mother, Luzmila Garcia told The Boston Herald on Wednesday before going to Newton Cemetery for his burial, “We want to know the truth. I want to know what happened. What really happened to him?”

I do not intend to speculate on the cause of Garcia’s death nor the circumstances surrounding it. Our role as journalists is to report on facts, not speculation.

But simply because the facts are unclear does not mean we should stop asking the difficult but crucial questions. Something or someone, even if it was accident, caused Garcia to die.

In college, we are often unaware, too young and inexperienced to recognize when we put ourselves in danger, or see our friends in trouble. This is not unique to BC. It is true of every college community, including Brandeis.

And now students at BC must cope with a tragedy that those closest to Garcia cannot stop thinking about. Few can make sense of the case. What are students to do when the police and private investigators have no answers? How can they find peace and understanding without knowing how he died.

For Garcia’s friends and classmates, their typical college experience was turned upside down this spring. Now, their worries stem from uncontrollable grief rather than uncertain grade-point averages.

This is the environment of shock and confusion that now fills the campus just seven miles from Brandeis University.

We may never know all the answers. But I do believe that by continually reporting on this case, by continually talking to BC students and by continually asking the questions everybody is wondering but too afraid to say aloud, we will come closer to understanding the truth.

What shocks the college community about Garcia’s death is that he was no different than the peers in his classes—a hardworking student known for his kindness and friendship. And now a community is searching for answers.

As student journalists, we have an obligation to contribute to that search. And we will not shrink from that responsibility simple because it takes us beyond South Street.