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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewee: Geoff Boucher
January 28, 1992
M: Today is January 28, 1992. We are talking to Geoff Boucher, former "everything" at
the [Independent Florida] Alligator. You are from somewhere in glorious south
B: Yes, a little place called Miramar. It is the last stop on the [Florida] Turnpike [going
M: That is a good landmark. You came to the University of Florida when?
B: In Summer B, 1987.
M: Late June.
M: You have been associated with the Independent Florida Alligator almost since your
B: Yes. I started there my third day as a freshman and stuck to it until about 1991.
M: What were some of the jobs you had on the Alligator?
B: I started as a stringer, which is a writer, and moved up to staff writer. Just before I
became a sophomore, I was managing editor. Then later I was news editor, and
M: What were some of the internships you had?
B: In the summer of 1990 I interned at the St. Petersburg Times, and then in the
summer of 1991 I interned at the Los Angeles Times.
M: We should read into the record that you are still getting over laryngitis.
M: I wanted to talk to you about the Gainesville murders in August 1990. That
semester you were news editor of the Alligator.
M: The two young women, the first two victims [Sonya Larsen and Christina Powell],
were killed in this very apartment complex, Williamsburg Village [Apartments], off of
SW 16th [Avenue]. Of course, you did not live here then. But that became known to
journalists on a Sunday afternoon. I wanted to talk about how you learned about it,
because you were preparing to publish your first issue of the Alligator for the year.
B: That is correct. The first issue of the semester was the "Welcome Back" issue,
which gets us off to a good advertising start. We make a lot of revenue from it. I
believe the issue that day was seventy-two pages, while the Alligator on a normal
day is twenty to twenty-six. So it definitely was oversized. The extra space is filled
with what we would call "timeless material." In some instances, it was filled with
filler--press releases, a lot of feature pieces, a lot of material by young writers,
informational pieces, and such.
M: "How to use the infirmary" and that kind of article?
B: Exactly. Because of the nature of it, there was not a whole lot of news planned for
that first issue. There never is. There were some news stories, but none of them
were deadline news, of course. We had had that issue pretty much done going into
the week. Parts of the paper were already ready to be printed going into the
weekend. You have to do that with an issue that size when you have the Alligators
limited production capability. We have only a few people in production, and they can
lay out only so many pages in one night.
The murders were discovered at about 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon, and we were going
to press sometime between 7 and 8 [p.m.] The paper was actually going to start
being physically printed at the Gainesville Sun, which does our printing. So for us,
from a newspaper standpoint, getting the story out posed quite a problem.
When news of the murders first came, we did not really know what we were dealing
with. We did not know that it would be what it turned out to be. We only had
sketchy reports of death--one, possibly two. We knew it was [at the] Williamsburg
[apartments]. We did not know that they were students. It is a student complex, so
it seemed likely they might be. But there was no one around the newsroom that
day. Pretty much the plan was: Sit tight, and let's see what happens. [We] sent out
some photographers, because you cannot catch up on that later. I think we even
sent out a police reporter, although thinking back on it I am not quite sure. We
probably did. But the attitude at the time, that late afternoon, was: Just wait and see
what happens. If worse comes to worse, we might get beat on this. It really did not
look like there was anything we could do, because at that point there was really
nothing we could pull. We would have been very, very late, and at that point we
were not sure it would be worth it.
B: You did not know the magnitude yet. Was it just your decision not to [include the
M: It actually was not even really my decision. It was Judy Plunkett's. She was the
editor of the Alligator at that time, and she also had a long career at the Alligator.
We had worked together a long time. At the time of this recording she is working for
the Miami Herald. She had final say.
Like I said, it was Sunday, the day before school [began]. While we are all
journalists, we are also students. We were all running around getting ready for the
semester. At that point, we had such sketchy details, and we were not sure we
could put together more than a brief in time to be printed. So we thought we would
wait and see what happened. As the day went along, I ended up going to see an
early movie with my roommates.
M: They also worked at the Alligator, right?
B: Yes. [It was] Mike Bruscell. Donya Currie tagged along. I think it was just the three
of us. [We] went to see Wild at Heart, a David Lynch movie. It is known for its
gratuitous violence. I think it is, at times, offensive violence, although I like Lynch.
Coming out of that movie, we were in dark moods because it is not a kind film. We
got back to the newsroom. My main memory of getting back [to the newsroom] was
that the photographers were still at the paper. This was in the evening, probably
about 9:00 or 9:30 [p.m.] They were still there.
M: Why did you go back to the Alligator?
B: I think there was more than one reason. It was on the way home. We wanted to
know what had happened with the murders. I remember that that was in our minds.
At that time, we did not have a phone in the house, and I needed to make a phone
call, too. Also, we always seem to end up at the Alligator. It is just that kind of place
where people who work there spend more time there than they do anywhere else.
M: Sort of a social life?
B: Yes. Many times I have just spent the night there, especially when I was editor. I
had my own couch and my own office.
We were, like I said, in a dark mood. We got back, and by then there were many
more facts from the scene. We realized that this was unlike anything we had really
had before. Like I said, I got to UF and the Alligator in the summer of 1987. Since
then, only one student had died in a non-accidental death. As far as I know, at least
in Gainesville, only one student had died of a non-accidental death, and that was
Ron Willis. He was not even a student when he got shot. He had just graduated
and was shot behind the Pike [Pi Kappa Alpha] house. When students die, it is big
news. It is uncommon in a town like Gainesville. Even though it is growing all the
time, there are still only about, I believe, an average of eight murders in this town a
year. Here we had two in one day, and they were both students. [It was just before]
the first day of school.
Some of the photographers were still on the scene because there was a lot going on
at the scene; it was a very busy crime scene. By then we were getting reports from
the scene from our photographers. Five hours after the discovery, [we were getting]
details that these were stabbings and possible mutilations and that [the victims]
there were two female students. That was what we were getting from the scene.
So suddenly the whole perspective of the situation had changed.
The other editors were not at the Alligator at that point. The other editors were Judy
Plunkett [editor]; Dan Evans was the other news editor; and Mike Cumella was the
managing editor. None of them was there at that point. I was new at this job; it was
my first day. In my head, it seemed to me that we had to do something. As soon as
I got in touch with Judy and Dan (they were the first ones I got in touch with), they
shared that sentiment. We wrangled the issue around for a little while, and between
the three of us we kind of came to the conclusion that there was really very little we
We had several options before us. [One was] some form of insert into the paper,
which would be a separate piece of paper found in the issue itself that would have
the news. We dismissed that because logistically the [Gainesville] Sun could not
pull it off at this late notice, expense would be great, and also there was always the
chance that no one would see it. It [the "Welcome Back"] was a big issue.
M: [The insert] might just fall out.
B: It was a coupon, for all anybody knew. Another option was to make a wrap, which
would go around the paper. Logistically and expensewise, that was infinitely more
difficult than the first option I mentioned. So at that point, we did not really think
there was a whole lot we could do. Here it was shaping up to be what looked like
one of the biggest stories (at that point, it was not the biggest story) in Gainesville in
a long time, and we were missing it. I talked to the Alligator general manager, Ed
Barber. He has been there for quite awhile, and he is in charge of the paper's ...
M: [He is] not a student.
B: He is not a student. He is a permanent staff [member]. He was an editor of the
Alligator in the 1960s. He went on to become the Alligators [general manager]. The
job he has now is the financial/business aspects of it, and he reports to the board of
directors. Beyond that, he is also a great source of history for Alligator editors.
While he will not even consider stepping into the editorial matters of the paper
(because he is permitted to), he is a very valuable asset to editors who want to know
what they can do. We were new at the job, and we still do not know all the options
before us. I talked to him about it. All this was going on, and it seemed like there
were really no options left.
While the editors' debate was going on, the rest of the paper was very busy.
Photographers were on the scene or back at the Alligator running film for
newspapers out of town. There were at least five Alligator reporters on the scene,
including Donya and Mike, that I know of. There was a slew [of reporters] from
everywhere. I know that our people just packed up and went, because that is what
good reporters do. They wisely knew to leave the editors to sort out the details and
[that it was their responsibility] just [to] get there. [The editors] will figure it out later.
Creeping up on 10:00, as I recall, another option came forward. That was to print on
a regular sheet of paper a flyer--more or less--that would carry the Alligatorflag, the
thing that says Alligator on the page, on the top and would appear to be a
newspaper, would be laid out as a newspaper, but on a piece of white paper. It was
two-sided. After talking to the various copy centers around town, I found out that we
could probably pull this off for not a whole heck of a lot of money. Actually, [it would
be] pretty cheap. The problem was arranging to get the volume of issues we
wanted out. Again, the thing that was looming over all this was that it was going into
the first day of the semester, and all the copy centers were overloaded with course
materials and the like.
M: Once you explained to them what you were doing, did they say anything about
putting that work on hold?
B: No. It was not so much that we found someone who was sympathetic to the cause
of journalism as it was we found someone who had time to do it. When I was talking
to them, I was not being real specific about what we were doing. It was getting late.
This was pretty much a shot in the dark. I started making calls, but I did not think
anything would come of it, frankly. It was just to soothe me because I personally
found it completely offensive for the Alligator to miss a story that was so important
for students to read the next day. So, as the night went on, it turned out we could do
that. I believe it cost under $100, and we got between 5,000 and 10,000 copies.
Again, the numbers elude me. It has been awhile.
M: What did it look like?
B: It was on a regular sheet of what would be nice typing paper, 8 1/2 x 11, black and
white. It had two photographs on the front and, I believe, two photographs on the
back. There were two stories, I think, that jumped off the front onto the back.
("Jumping" means they were continued to the backside.) In its final form, it carried
no bylines; it said, "Alligator Staff Report." That was a product of when something
that big happens [everyone has to work together]. It was big for papers like the
Gainesville Sun and the Miami Herald and whoever covered it. For the Alligator it
just does not get any bigger than that. Our resources are obviously limited, and we
are working from a base where the most experienced people in the newsroom are
like twenty years old. Judy was a very young editor. I think she was twenty when
she was editor. I was nineteen at the time, I think. Between the two of us, we
probably had six years' journalism experience, if that. I am not trying to make
excuses or anything, because I think we did a very good job. I do not think we need
excuses. But it was just such a big thing for us.
It was a total team effort. Reporters called in from the scene. The editors took the
calls [and] combined them into a story. Copy editors came in the night before
school started. People we barely knew or that had just joined the staff or really were
not that confident about their jobs were in there, laying out this page, talking to
production, figuring out how we were going to get these photos not to look like they
were covered in applesauce when they are photocopied 10,000 times on a piece of
paper, as opposed to our usual process. So not only are we putting out one of our
most important issues, it was significantly different than any issue we had ever done
M: You said Mike Bruscell and Donya Currie were your "star" reporters. You may be
reluctant to call them that, but they were the most experienced reporters. Each of
them had had an internship, I think, by this point. Who else worked on the story?
B: I remember Elizabeth Clarke was on the scene. I remember that a lot of the
information came from our photographers: Shawn Sullivan, Reggie Grant, and Kevin
Wisniewski stand out in my mind.
M: What sort of call would the photographer make? What would he say?
B: Those photographers were calling in and saying, "Hey, the PIO [police information
officer] is going to give a statement over here," or, "I just heard this from a cop."
That is what a lot of it at that point was: "I just heard this." Those are valuable in the
fact that when you finally do grab a source that can speak with some weight behind
what he or she is going to say, if someone has an official source, you have a
question to ask. "We heard this. Is it true?" It gives you a starting point, so that
information is always valuable, especially in something like that, which is basically
combat-zone journalism. We did not know what was going on.
Anyway, I called Judy about this idea. We talked it over for a little while. We talked
to Dan. The three of us sat down and haggled over whether or not we could do it,
how we would do it, what it would like, and everything like that. I guess probably
around 10:30-ish we decided to go ahead and do it and reserved the time at the
copy center. We got production people in there and got all these people working
together. We put it out.
M: Approximately what time did you take it to the copy center?
B: I think maybe at 2:30 [a.m.] or something like that.
M: Which [copy center]? Kinko's is right next door [to the Alligator offices].
B: It was not Kinko's. Kinko's could not do it. I really hate to give a mistaken plug to
anyone, but if my memory serves me right, I think it was Target [Copy]. But if they
did not do it, then the hell with it, because I do not know who did it.
So we got this thing together in the wee hours of the morning, and I remember
talking to Donya and Mike again. The three of us were in this dark, dark mood now.
We had seen this awful film--not awful in quality, but awful in content and in psychic
battery. You just came out of it upset.
M: [It is] a disturbing film, even on a pretty day.
B: Sure. Exactly. Then to be confronted with this real-life horror [was too much],
although at that point it did not overwhelm us like it would eventually. But we were
in pretty dark moods. Anyway, we were up early the next morning.
M: Did you sleep at all that night?
B: I slept a little. I think I slept for an hour or two. I am not really sure. I cannot
remember. I might have just drunk beer.
B: So the next morning comes, and we have this thing. Then the question was, what
do we do with it? We could have stuck it in the issues, but, then again, there was
always the concern that it would get lost. To do that, we would have to unbale the
issues, put them all in, and then deliver them. It would have been hellish.
We were lucky. The reason that it was so hard to get this done was the same thing
that made it so easy to hand it out. The fact that it was the first day of school meant
that we could not put it in the paper, but at the same time it meant that we knew
where all the students would be. On the first day of school, as anyone who has ever
gone to this school or any major university will tell you, you are in line. The line can
be in four different places, but there are four lines, and you are in one of them. So
we put our people at Tigert Hall, where the registrar's office was, which has now
been moved to the [Marshall] Criser center. ([I say this because otherwise] no one
will know what I am talking about in ten years.) [We also put people at] the Hub,
which was the student financial affairs [office and Campus Book Shop], the Florida
Gym, which was the site of drop/add and late registration, and at the [J. Wayne
Reitz] Union. We just put people out and asked them to wear their Alligator shirts,
and we started handing this thing out about 6:30 or 7:00 a.m., which is an amazing
M: How did you get people to do this? Did you have to get on the phone and recruit a
B: A lot of the ones who did it were the ones that were helping out the night before. A
lot of them were the regulars, but there were also some new faces. There were also
some people that had come in Summer B and had written maybe a few stories and
were willing to help. I sound like a cheerleader, but that is what the Alligator is all
about. There are always people picking up the slack.
M: What was the purpose of the shirts?
B: The shirts were to make it look like you were not being handed an ad [or] some sort
of flyer for Joe's Deli. If it is an Alligator shirt, many people might have better
recognition when they are handed something. It just seemed easier that way. We
were [also] stationed near Alligator boxes, so when people picked up their
newspaper you could hand them [the flyer and the newspaper] all at once. It just
had a nicer feel to it.
None of this was like a concerted speech. There was no "Here is how to do it." We
were not that organized. I was surprised we had as many people handing out as we
did. But the message got passed along: wear the shirt; do not yell "Extra" or "Read
all about it"; when you hand it to someone, remember, do not make jokes about this,
because this school has 34,000 people in it, but it is not that big. There is going to
be someone who knows one of those young ladies who were discovered dead the
night before. We tried to impress upon people those things. We did not have to try
very hard. [Of] the people that were working there, like anywhere, there is good and
there is bad, there is smart and there is dumb. For the most part they are a pretty
good group, and they knew what was going on. So we handed it out.
There is a ghoulish thing among journalists that you feel your greatest
accomplishments come at the worst times in human existence. Actually, most of the
time a journalist succeeds and wins awards or acclaim or [gains a] sense of
fulfillment when they cover something bad or get someone arrested or [cover
something] initiated by a human tragedy. Unfortunately, that is just the way our
industry works. That is nothing new.
I remember that day, I felt very good about what we had done. We had put out a
very good piece of news. It was concise. Everything in there was sincere. It did not
have any of the rumor or innuendo that [had] already cropped up in some
newspapers. The Gainesville murders, as they went along, became for me an
epitome of everything that is wrong about sensationalistic journalism and bad
journalism. Already it had started on a very low level. But there were already
people making assumptions because this was high-profile [and] what some people,
for some reason, call a "sexy" story.
The main thing I remember about handing out that issue is going into Tigert Hall to
hand out some issues. A large chunk of our readership is employees of the
University. I went up to hand deliver one to Art Sandeen, who is the vice-president
for student affairs, a job which puts him in closest contact with the students, I think,
of any of the administrators. I think that is very beneficial for the students, because I
have always thought he had their interests at heart. I remember handing him an
issue. I remember when I walked in his office, the only way I can really describe it is
he was gray. He was just completely gray. I was feeling a little gray myself, so I
assumed that he was feeling bad for the same reasons I was because it was such a
bad night. He takes student problems pretty close to heart. I handed it to him, and
instead of hearing him talk about the tragedy the day before, he introduced me to a
brand-new one. He said, "Did you hear they just found another one?"
My jaw just hit the floor. I was stunned. He said, "They just found the body of
another young woman [Christa Hoyt]." [He continued to say that] the crime,
although it was very early [to make a connection], bore similarities to the previous
one and that this was also a student. It would later turn out [that it was] not a UF
student. [It was a] Santa Fe Community College student. That, for me, just pushed
this roller coaster ride twice as high. All of a sudden, the hardest day in my life
turned into the hardest week of my life. The next few days were like a blur. [They
were] very surrealistic.
M: How was your attendance in class?
B: At that point, I did not know my teachers' names. I would not learn my teachers'
names until probably a good two weeks later. Fortunately, that is not a rarity in my
academic career, so I [had] learned how to cope with it. Later that
B: Right. They found the third crime scene and the last two victims. We were busy
working on that day's issue when that happened.
M: Was it Monday evening when they found Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada?
B: I think so. I know that all the bodies were found within the space of one day or
within the space of two days.
M: I think it was within the space of two days.
B: Excuse me. [It was] within the space of two days. [The sequence of events
occurred over the space of three days. The first two bodies (Sonja Larson and
Christina Powell) were discovered Sunday afternoon around 3:30 p.m. The third
body (Christa Hoyt) was discovered about 12:30 a.m. Monday morning. The fourth
and fifth bodies (Tracy Paules and Manuel Taboada) were discovered Tuesday
It seemed that when that last news came, people looked like deer staring at the
headlights. We were just stunned. We did not know what was going on. We did
not think it would stop. We were really wondering what had happened to our town.
Gainesville has a pretty interesting flavor to it. When people have been here for a
while, they know what the flavor is. All of a sudden the town was literally tossed on
its ear. Students were throwing their belongings in cars and leaving. The students
that were staying were buying guns at an alarming rate [and] walking down the
street with golf clubs and baseball bats. [They were] moving in with each other.
There were more reporters in the city than students, it seemed, and many of the
reporters were trying to corner those students to get some sort of comment.
M: Students were bugging out right and left. The University did not seem to be putting
any pressure on students to stay, although classes were not officially canceled.
B: Right. The University took, I thought, a pretty responsible [position]. At the time, I
thought they made a very good move by not canceling classes. I thought that was a
M: Why would that affect you, since you do not attend class? [laughter]
B: It did not affect me at all, but it gave me a reason to tell my mom, who wanted me to
come home, that I was staying. That was something that the people at the Alligator
went through, too, especially the young ladies that worked there.
We had, at the time, a wonderful staff. I enjoyed that semester tremendously. The
only one I enjoyed more was when I was editor because it was all the same people,
and we just knew each other better. The pressures on everyone there to maintain
some kind of life--more than that, to try to cover this thing--[were immense]. It was
not just one reporter covering it. Now everybody was covering it. We had one
student covering the University aspects of how it was going to affect classes [and]
one student covering the gun sales in town. All the reporters were covering different
things and still trying to be students and people. It was hard for anybody to be a
person in town at that time. It was really hard to be brave and cover this thing for
some of our folks.
I remember one of our staffers, every day that week, got a phone call from her mom,
and her mom was crying: "Get home. I do not care what your job is. I do not care
what your school is. I do not care about anything. You are my baby. I want you
home. I do not want you to die." It is kind of hard to look a staffer in the eye after
that and say, "We really need you to cover this story." Of course, a lot of our people
did leave. A lot of them stayed. The ones that did stay did a very good job.
I remember in particular [that] I was impressed with our photographers. I remember
Shawn Sullivan's work stood out in my mind [and] Reggie Grant's work. Donya
Currie became our top reporter on that story. Again, I was talking about how
journalists hate the fact that their best accomplishments come from such horrible
times. I think that coverage earned her an internship at the St. Petersburg Times,
which is a good paper. I do not think she would dispute that, either. For her, it was
very traumatic at the time because she is a very emotional person, which is one
reason she is such a good reporter. It was a very difficult time for her. She was my
roommate, also, like I said. And Mike Bruscell was my roommate. We all moved
into a friend's house.
M: Why did you leave your house? It was so convenient to the Alligator, about a block
and a half away.
B: We lived at "Alligator Mansion," as it is called. It is a big, creaky house that was built
in the 1920s. It has these beautiful ten-foot ceilings, glass French doors, three
porches, two fireplaces, [and] hardwood floors, all of which is great, but it is very low
security, and it is not in the best of locations when it comes to crime statistics. I had
a great time living there, but while I lived there, we had three brushes with crime,
including one time [when] I woke up to find a gentleman standing over my bed. He
had felonious intent. It is just not a pleasant experience. That break-in happened
much later, so I was jaded by then. But during the murders, we decided it would be
best for our sanity, for our work, and for our lives to flee that place. And we did,
because it was such a dark house in a dark area. [There are] lots of trees.
We moved to a much more residential [area, one with a] much more suburban feel
[near] the Duck Pond, which is past downtown. It is not a predominantly student
area. We moved there to a much more secure-feeling house with our friend, Cesar
Brioso, who is now a sports writer at the Ocala Star Banner. [He] is an Alligator
alum. Those nights there were probably upwards of a dozen people crashed out on
his couch, floor, dining room table, [and] everywhere, just littering his house. Many
of them [were] falling asleep with their face against a baseball bat, their hand on a
stun gun, or a police scanner blaring in their ear. That is just the kind of atmosphere
it took on. [There were] a lot of late nights where we were tired and on edge, and
we just spent the whole day talking about the murders. You go to sleep, and you
remember just as you are about to go to sleep that you are an awful lot like all the
victims. It was just a very unsettling time. It was for everybody.
I remember a lot of nights we would run out of that house because of what we heard
on the scanner. We used to sit around and listen to the scanner. I imagine it was
like listening to the "Amos 'n' Andy" show [on the radio] in the 1930s, except it was
not fun. We were all gathered around this little scanner. There were about ten
people in the room. We were all drinking beer, sitting there, staring at this thing. A
couple of us would list the police code to decipher it for the uninitiated among the
crowd. [We were] just sitting there and listening. There were so many calls. [There
were] so many [saying], "I just saw somebody outside my house," [or,] "I just saw
somebody fooling around my car." For some of them, the bigger ones that sounded
somewhat real, we would hop in the car and go. So, again, it just took on this
bizarre feel to it. It was like a David Lynch film.
M: When the story becomes the major national story after the third body was
B: By Wednesday it was the top story in the country.
M: Eclipsed only internationally, I suppose, at least among American interests, by the
situation in the [Persian] Gulf. At that point, big media descended on Gainesville.
B: Big, ugly media.
M: What did those reporters want you to do for them?
B: They came in different sizes and shapes with different requests. A lot of folks that
came were from state newspapers or regional newspapers, and they were alums.
Those papers wanted their reporters there to cover it, and the best one to send is
the Alligator alum sitting on your staff. There are so many good people who have
gone through that paper that it was not hard to find them in any newsroom. So we
had people from the Palm Beach Post and the Ocala Star-Banner and Florida Today
and the Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times that came into town and were all
alums. It was nice to see some friendly faces. Of course, we offered up our
newsroom for them to have a home base to use our phones and our computers and
our electronic capability to transmit.
We got from them a couple of good tips. I remember one reporter's newspaper had
a little more clout when calling the PIO. After the PIO talked with them for a minute,
they said: "Hold on. I am going to put you on hold for a second," and then just
handed the phone to one of our reporters who had had nine unanswered calls that
day. Our reporter picked up the phone and said: "Hi. This is (blank) from the
Alligator. I need you to tell me this." And we got the PIO. It was a nice, symbiotic
M: So they helped you.
B: Yes, they did. The thing is, too, they are alums. They put their time in at the paper,
and we did not mind at all helping them out. I will not say that there were not some
toes stepped on during that time. It is not that big of a place. There not that many
keyboards, there are not that many phones, and there are an awful lot of egos
running around. So it was interesting, that part. But that part we could tolerate.
There were people who we had never seen before coming into the newsroom that
wanted to use our equipment. They acted like we should be thankful for that.
M: [Can you give] examples?
B: I do not remember specifics.
M: Do you remember what major magazines?
B: I remember the people who came to town; at this point, I cannot remember which
ones were rude. Only certain ones stick out in my mind, and I will not get into all
that. I remember our photographers had some problems because space back there
is particularly limited, and they were working quite a bit with UPI [United Press
M: In the darkroom.
B: Yes. UPI had moved in--I do not mind talking about them--about a Winnebago's
worth of equipment, so there was some tension back there. But they helped us out
by transmitting our photographers' pictures. That part was okay.
The real problem with the media, from the Alligators point of view--I am sure
everybody in this town had a beef with the media; I do not blame them--was people
that assumed they could come to town, take all of our work that we had done, sit
down and take up two hours of our day interviewing us so we could give them a nice
little capsule of what had happened before they talked to the cops. [It was] sort of
like a dry run. They did not want to read clips, so they just talked to us. The thing
was, we were trying to put out a paper. Also, that has an unpleasant,
condescending feel to it. Even more than that, a lot of reporters went beyond that
and wanted to use us [not only] as sources of information but also as sources of
quotes. [Their attitude was:] Here you are, the student, Geoff Boucher. You are a
news editor. You are easy to get. Tell me how you feel. What is the mood on the
M: When did fear officially grip the campus?
B: Fear gripped the campus, I believe, Tuesday at 3:35 [p.m.] The web of fear
descended on the city shortly thereafter, and this sleepy little college town officially
woke up. I guess that was Monday.
M: These are all cliches employed by these out-of-town journalists.
B: And a lot of the in-town journalists, too, I must admit. Well, maybe not the "sleepy
town" part, but the "web of fear" was pretty big that week.
M: What did you learn about that? It is interesting to see. You live one place and you
think you know it, but it is interesting to see how an outsider would characterize it.
B: Yes, it is very interesting how an outsider characterizes it. This is kind of hypocritical
of me. I am offended they would ask me for information, because I consider myself
a journalist. The reason they would ask me for information was also because I was
also a student. As a student, I identify greatly with the victim group, not just a victim
of crime but also the victim of coverage.
The people that I think suffered the most from the excesses, from that wave of
journalists, or I should say media, that came into town, [were residents of
Gainesville]. It was difficult reading some of those stories and knowing how wrong
they were. I remember [an article that appeared in] Vanity Fair. Here is a
publication that I had heard mixed things about for years. I was not that familiarwith
it. I thought there was some form of quality linked to their name. I read the story
["Panic in Gainesville," which appeared in the December 1990 issue], and it was
horrible. There were so many [erroneous] facts in it [and] blatant mistakes.
M: I think it was Jesse Kornbluth who wrote that. He seemed to imply that the women
of the University of Florida had it coming because they wear shorts.
You drew a line there between journalists and media.
B: Yes, I did.
M: Would you explain that?
B: I am going to show my bias here. I will probably get in trouble for this someday.
The thing that stood out most about the excesses of the media that came to town
was the position that many broadcast--specifically television--journalists find
themselves in. I imagine it is a difficult quandary, because they are dealing with
such limited time to present their stuff. In broadcasting, you are compelled to get it
in so quickly, and also you have to have an image, a vision, something to show.
That drove some of the lower grade among them to do things during press
conferences and to students walking down the street that I just found offensive.
They were sensationalistic, [and] they were often wrong. They did not respect the
story. They did not respect what was going on. I guess I am still at that overly
idealistic age of my career. I was more idealistic before all that happened.
I still think that I know good journalists. I have met quite a few. I have been lucky
enough to work with quite a few. They always recognize where the story gets out of
hand. [They realize] you have to look at it and realize that these are people you are
dealing with. I saw a lot of that fall by the wayside that week, and I saw a lot of that
fall by the wayside with Ed Humphrey, who would turn out to be the first major
suspect in the case. He was later dropped down the list, and at the time of this
recording we have a state attorney that still publicly says there is a chance that Ed
Humphrey was involved in it. You are hard- pressed to find anyone who covered
that murder that agrees with that.
M: National Public Radio--I do not know if it was Susan Stanberg or who--called Judy
Plunkett and interviewed her on the air. That was kind of neat, driving home and
hearing Judy Plunkett on National Public Radio.
B: That was one of the better calls we got.
M: Yes. They were pleasant to deal with, I assume. But some of the other folks in
B: Yes. Quite a few of them called. One of the calls that I fielded was from the
Geraldo Rivera show. It is hard to express my opinion of him. I guess I will say it. I
liked some of the stories he used to do on "20/20" [ABC news magazine] a long time
ago, but since then I think it is pretty common knowledge that he is just a caricature.
I did not realize that [members of] his staff were also cartoon characters until I
received a call from one of his producers. He was calling with the offer of flying me
or another editor up to talk about the murders on an upcoming show. He started off
the conversation by asking how the paper felt about what had been going on down
here. Again, this comes at a time of very long days [and] very bad news.
I think that was the day I found out that we had been spelling Sonja Larson's name
wrong because of an error from the police department. I was very upset about that.
I talked to her parents. It is very difficult to put up with stupidity at that time. That is
why it bothered me so much; I felt bad that our paper had contributed to more
suffering, because we had tried so hard not to print rumors. We did not cover the
funerals. We did not go overboard in a lot of ways that a lot of other people had.
Then I got this call with this very low tolerance level.
He asked me how we felt about it. I told him we did not support the murders. I told
him that we thought in general that they were a bad thing. He apparently did not
understand that that was a sarcastic lead into a farewell. He asked me if I knew a
lot about those student shootings. He said, "We heard about the students getting
shot down there, and we wondered if you wanted to talk about it on our show." At
that point I just lost it. [I was angry with] the fact that this guy had not even read
anything about this before he called, the fact that he put more effort into getting my
phone number than he did to knowing the situation, [and] the fact that this guy has
access to national airwaves. I pretty much just [lost it]. I cannot remember what I
said. I am pretty sure it was profane, and I hung up.
It did not get a whole lot better after that, because I went to one of the press
conferences that the police were holding, and they [the media] were just ugly. There
were broadcast folks there who were just out of control. There were print folks there
who were out of control, too. I am not saying that if you do not carry a microphone
you are perfect. There were excesses everywhere. It was a very difficult time for
me, and it helped me a lot. It helped me gauge the problems in the industry.
M: In a brief lead-in to [University of Florida] President [John] Lombardi's appearance
on CNN, CNN reported that this was the same college town that Ted Bundy had
ravaged some years before. [Ted Bundy murdered two female college students and
injured several others at Florida State University in Tallahassee in 1978. Ed.]
B: Yes, they certainly did. Then someone referred to us as Florida State University in
Gainesville. That is bad. Obviously, it is a mistake, and that is the main drive in our
career: to get it right. Those kind of mistakes, while they bother me, do not bother
me as much as someone that crams a microphone in someone's face, invades their
space, invades their right to be treated decently, and starts pumping them for
information. You really have to step back and wonder if at that point that is that
Like I said, at the time I was the person at the paper who pushed really hard not to
cover the funerals. I did not think there was any purpose in covering the funerals.
Memorial services are another thing. There was a memorial service at the
University of Florida. People spoke for each of the victims. Officials spoke. It was a
nice service. It was really well done. We covered that. We covered the hell out of
it. But we were not going to go to a funeral and take pictures of crying parents.
There is no need for that. The news is [only that] there is a funeral. That is not
news. There is always a funeral, and there are always mourners. I know a lot of
people would disagree with me on that. That was where the whole paper was
coming from. That was not me. I do not want to make this sound like it was. Again,
as a staff, as a whole, the paper did very, very well. I am very proud of the way we
handled probably the most difficult week of any of our lives.
M: What is the big lesson you got from that week?
B: The lessons came in two ways. On a career level, it is pretty much everything I just
outlined. I saw the worst of what journalism can be. I also saw some good
journalism. I saw some people that really impressed me. I learned some hard
lessons [on] how to talk to people. I talked to Sonja Larson's parents. I do not know
how they could speak to anyone. I found a great admiration for them just for their
strength. Since then, I have had to talk to people in similar situations--victims of
crime and also relatives of people who have been killed and what have you. A lot of
that tact, I think, came from that [experience].
On a more personal level, I learned that people die. People die young. People die
horribly [and] painfully. I think some of the media grabbed onto this topic during the
murders, and it was probably pretty good. Actually, President John Lombardi of the
University said it. He said that students think they are invincible. That is why they
go out and drink and drive, and that is why they go out and party too much, and that
is why they do even the good things that they do. I thought I was invincible. Going
into that week, I probably thought I was invincible. After that, I became a lot more
fearful. I took that with me when I went on my internships and just about everything
I have done. I worry more about the people I care for.
M: Things for anyone who was here [during the murders] will never really be back to
normal. This remains a real life-changing event, something you mark time by. But
when did things cool down enough that you moved back to the Alligator Mansion?
When did it become a normal semester, having been through so many Alligator
B: We moved back to Alligator Mansion probably by the end of the second week of
school. I did not have a car. That whole time I was hopping rides. At that time I
was not going to school, and now I needed to go to school to make at least a few
appearances. So by the second week we got back into normal daily environment.
But things did not get back to normal for a while. I think that this town will recover
from it faster than just about any other town because half the students who were
here are gone now. There is a whole group of [new] freshmen now. For them, it is
no more real than Ted Bundy is to me. I mean, Bundy is real to me, but it is history
to me. That happened when I was a little kid. For me it is a vague, [distant thing]. It
is no more real than Jack the Ripper.
M: What is it like here at this apartment complex?
B: The murders happened across the parking lot from where I live now. I had been to
this apartment building once. The night after the bodies were discovered, I went to
the crime scene along with two other reporters. I had not been back here until I
moved in. There was a $150-off coupon in the paper. [It was] $150 off the deposit
to move in and no last month's rent. I think that along with the new alarm systems
and the emergency button that is in every room, a panic button that you can press to
alert the police, are very real aspects of how this specific apartment complex, and a
lot of apartment complexes in this town, [are changing for the better].
M: Do you think that anyone who lives here is unaware that it happened here?
B: I doubt that. I do not think it has been long enough yet. That will eventually happen,
I think. Maybe it will not, but I think it probably will. The scars heal very quickly in a
town like this.
M: I wrote a letter to the executive director of the Society of Professional Journalists
trying to get the Alligator a special citation, and he did not get it. But I think the
Alligator performed a real important public service by being probably the most
reliable source of information. What kind of reaction, if any, did you get from your
B: The thing that made the coverage good, I think, was that it was so straightforward
and accurate. [Misspelling] Sonja Larson's name was the only mistake that we
made, not that that makes it okay. The types of things that we did, in and of
themselves, are the kinds of things that do not attract a lot of attention. We gave
everybody facts that they needed to know. That was our job, so they did not think
twice. Some readers did, of course. The letters that we got, I recall, were from
readers who were reading several papers a day. Some were saying, "How come
you do not have all this gory stuff that the other papers have?" Then, as the days
went on, we got letters that said: "I am glad you are not printing all those rumors.
Newspaper A has changed its story three days in a row."
M: Some newspapers did get extremely graphic in [their] description of the crime
scenes. Was that information you did not have, or was that a conscious decision to
leave that out?
B: I will admit right up front [that] a lot of that stuff we just did not get. I know it sticks
out in my mind that the Orlando Sentinel had some of the most explicit stories when
it came to the crime scenes. A lot of stuff was unattributed, but it was their decision
to go with it. The Alligator has a stance that it has a very strong distaste when it
comes to unnamed sources, except in instances where it is absolutely necessary. I
guess maybe if we had one in that instance, we would have deemed it absolutely
necessary. We did not have one [an unnamed source], so we did not get that
information. We got some of it, though not in the depth that they had, and we did
not use it. There were things that we had, and we said no. [Of course, it was]
because of taste, but also we just factored in that nothing was sure yet, because
none of that was certain. It was like, Is it worth it if this is wrong in the long run? and
What is this going to give to our readers? We just did not want to tell anybody
anything wrong at that time when things that they needed to hearwere so important.
We did get a lot of positive feedback from people in the industry [and] a lot of the
people who came to town. I think I told you before [that] John Lombardi jotted off a
note to Judy Plunkett, who was editor at the time, saying he thought our coverage
was as good, if not better, than most; [he said it was] as good as any and better than
M: Thank you. We have run out of time.