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Mid-Missouri Mass Murder 3 min read

Mid-Missouri Mass Murder

Read. This. Story. You won't regret it.

By Cary Littlejohn

I’ve been writing less than usual the past few weeks, but that’s because I’ve been editing more than usual. As the features editor for Vox magazine, it’s my job to shepherd those longer pieces in the magazine from rough draft to finished product. It’s an immense honor to be trusted with someone else’s writing; as a writer, I know what a fragile thing it can be to hand over your work to someone else and say, “OK, do with it what you will.” As an editor, it’s privilege to hold up the finished product for all to see.

So, it’s my great pleasure to direct you to one of our most recent stories. I started this newsletter in large part to share beloved pieces of writing with you. I include links to writing much better than I can muster on my best days, and I have only the vaguest notion of whether any of them are actually being clicked and read. So, here’s my plea to you. This week, if ever you listen to me, click on this link, and read this story:


Here’s a quick rundown of the story. Before mass shootings leapt into the national consciousness as a depressingly recurrent news item, the small town of California, Missouri suffered two days of terror at the hands of lone gunman. The year was 1991; it was December, and the Christmas season was torn asunder. Lives were taken. Lives were irrevocably changed. It’s a common refrain today, the senselessness of it all, but in this reconstruction of the those tumultuous two days, you’ll see up close just how pointless the resulting deaths truly were.

And if that were all the story included, you’d be in for an informative and darkly gripping read. But it’s a much deeper story than that. So I want to take this opportunity to provide a peek behind the curtain, into the very process that created the story, and to yet again make a case for the necessity of magazine journalism.

Because I can open my laptop and churn out a newsletter to you rather quickly, the intensive work that went into producing this feature article can be underestimated. It was conceived of, pitched, researched and written by a talented writer name Kate Robbins. This process started months ago. Thank goodness she didn’t tire of the whole endeavor. For all our sakes, I hope she keeps writing, for she certainly has something worth saying.

Her first draft of this story made up the backbone of what you’ll read when you click on the story; it was the narrative reconstruction of the shooting spree, painstakingly pieced together by some top-notch archival research and in-person interviews. She combed through a trial transcript over 1,700 pages long to bring out the shot-for-shot retelling. She interviewed townsfolk who lived through the whole terrible ordeal. But if that rough draft was the backbone, then her revisions of the piece supplied its soul. The finalized story she turned in delved into not just stale and dusty records but rather the breadth and depth of her life. Through that lens, she considered this simple question for herself, and on behalf of her hometown: What do we owe the past? You’ll understand it better when you read the story, so I won’t offer any spoilers, because her words deserve to be felt, experienced, devoured on their own merits. I will say this though: the backbone of this piece is something that wouldn’t feel out of place in a newspaper, but the soul of it all — grafted onto that skeletal frame and bringing the two-dimensional to life — was made for magazines.

I’m incredibly lucky to have been a part of the team(and it was a team, from numerous editors, designers, photographers, fact-checkers, sources, professors) that produced this story. The town’s story. The shooter’s story. The victims’ stories. Kate’s story.

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