Still recovering from the knife attack delivered by the robust white woman suspected of kidnapping her newborn son Yair, Maria Gurrolla surprised many yesterday morning with her willingness
to answer questions about the unfolding nightmare.
Only a day after the incident, emotional and physical wounds still fresh, Gurrolla went before the press to plead for her son's return, a decision that highlights both her bravery and grief. As a reporter who covered the conference at Vanderbilt, I've been asked a number of times since why we "media types" felt the need to drag the mother before the camera. Were we live-feeding her trauma for page views and ratings?
To be honest, I heard members of the press yesterday at the scene quietly discuss among themselves whether Gurrolla was ready to face the media. It raises all those queasy questions that surface anytime the spotlight is thrown on fresh tragedy.
Yesterday, in the clear mid morning sun, TV and print reporters assembled in a shady patch of grass outside the hospital's main building, a semi-circle of a dozen camera stands lined up before the two wooden benches where the victim and her family would sit.
When the appointed 11:30 conference start time came and went without an appearance, word made its way through the assembled press people that the family had decided against the meeting. Soon enough, though, hospital officials announced Gurrolla was on her way down. Because the assailant was still at-large, the family had requested a police escort.
The moment Gurrolla approached, camera and TV crews zeroed in on the bruised and bandaged figure, who was slumped in a wheelchair and trailed by attending medical staff and a Metro cop.
As Gurrolla was wheeled into place before the cameras, TV tech crews swarmed the chair, clipping small microphones to the front of her baby blue hospital gown. A Vanderbilt official introduced the doctors and nurses, who were flanking the mother while a TV reporter launched into the voluble intro of her live newscast, the two voices speaking over one another.
The mother didn't read from a prepared statement. In measured, calm Spanish, she answered the media's questions, her cousin Norma Rodriguez acting as a translator. There was none of the usual press conference question-barrage. One at a time reporters politely asked for the details of the attack and about Gurrolla's condition, while craning cameras and recorders jockeyed for sound bites and pics. Considering the situation, the mother showed remarkable calm and resolve. A deep scratch ran down her cheek, her right eye was swollen bright blood red, and her face was splotched with bruises. Gurrolla seemed on the verge of tears only once, when asked to describe her newborn.
"He's four days old, he has a full head of black hair, he's kind of chubby, big cheeks, big eyes," she said, lips trembling.
After about 10 minutes, doctors pulled the plug on the press conference. While the mother was wheeled away, reporters pressed Rodriguez for more details, then began questioning the police and hospital officials milling about.
Victim interviews aren't necessarily the standard procedure, Vanderbilt representatives told me. But given what's at stake in the Gurrolla case, it seemed important to them and to the family to publicize the urgent search for the missing child. And what better messenger than the baby's desperate mother?