Since the fall, I’ve been closely following the story of 44-year-old Mark Miller, a Dunlap, Ind. man who went missing on Sept. 7. From the beginning, it didn’t seem like a typical missing persons case; Miller had recently turned his life around, becoming very involved in the community and dedicating much of his time to his children. Although we rarely do stories on missing persons cases, we decided to do a piece on the search for Miller after talking to police and family members. Covering Miller’s disappearance reminded me how important it is to maintain contacts and stay on top of a story.
A little more than a week after we did a piece on the search, police found a body in a barrel in the St. Joseph River in Elkhart County. I was sent out to the scene and immediately noticed Miller’s family there. They were waiting to hear from police if the body was his. Because I’d done a story on the search, they were willing to talk to me and keep me updated throughout the evening. In a situation like that, it’s important to show compassion; people are so much more willing to talk if you approach them first as a human being instead of as a journalist. Several of Miller’s family members gave me their cell phone numbers that night, which proved to be invaluable as the investigation continued.
The next day, police revealed the body found inside the barrel was Miller’s. Because of the relationship we’d established, his family agreed to do an interview reacting to the news. The result was an emotional, powerful story that stuck with viewers.
In the weeks and months following the investigation, I checked in with Miller’s family members periodically to get an update on the investigation. Police had executed a search warrant, but made no arrest in Miller’s murder. We did several stories on benefits for Miller’s children and motorcycle rides in his honor.
In May, the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s office announced they were charging Miller’s former business partner, Todd Stewart, with his murder. I was able to get Miller’s family on the phone immediately; after waiting about eight months for an arrest, they were eager to do an interview. Had we not followed the story so closely and checked in on the family over those seven months, I do not think they would have felt as comfortable giving an interview immediately after the arrest.