Lost on 'search' story

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First and foremost, it was a happy ending, inasmuch as Mackenzie Greco was found alive and well, even if he was avoiding those searching for him.

We broke the story at newsitem.com at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday that a search had begun for the 17-year-old Marion Heights boy. We continued with coverage that dominated Page 1 of Wednesday and Thursday's print editions, and the story received plenty of attention from other local media, including newspaper and TV.

But this didn't play out as the typical "search" story, and we all became a bit lost as the case transitioned from that of someone who was missing to someone who was hiding.

After it became apparent the teen didn't want to be found, words like "capture" and "apprehend" entered the public discussion, yet he wasn't wanted by authorities for any crime. So it was neither a matter of rescuing the boy nor of apprehending him. Simply, people were trying to find him, even while he tried not to be found.

Another variable was Greco's age. Had he been just one year older - although certainly his parents still would have been concerned - would authorities have organized a search party for an "adult" who had gone missing for such a relatively short time? (He was reported missing at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday after not returning from a jog after five hours, and the search began after daybreak.)

Once Mount Carmel Township Police Chief Brian Hollenbush did "find" and "secure" Greco - those are the words we chose for our headlines in Thursday's edition, avoiding the notion of "capture" - our photo of him being led into the Mount Carmel police station generated further public feedback. Some said we shouldn't have published the name and photo of a minor. While invasion of privacy involving youths is always a consideration, this was a major news event that played out in public and involved a number of publicly funded agencies. Besides - again - this did not involve identifying a minor who was charged with a crime, although that's what some errantly claimed in defending our coverage.

Some suggest Greco should face some type of punishment for having caused the disturbance he did; a lot of man hours were expended in the search effort, not to mention the use of police vehicles and ATVs and even a helicopter. But beyond the humiliation he's had to endure, probably the best penalty would be for Greco to pay back police and emergency units through some volunteer effort or other donation of his time and energy.

Otherwise, we can move on from the story of the "missing" teenager.

(Andy Heintzelman, editor of The News-Item, writes "The Week In News" for each Saturday edition. E-mail andy_h@newsitem.com.)

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