Was The Tammy Haas Story In Poor Taste?

Was the Tammy Haas story the Press & Dakotan ran recently in poor taste?

(Read it here. Kelly Hertz also wrote an editorial about the case here.)

That was the argument made in the following letter I received after the story was printed. Read it for yourself:

Dear Mr. Johnson,
I have to write this to tell you how the front page of 4-14-12’s paper was in very poor taste.
How does Tammy Haas’ family rate to get the front page like that — with a huge picture of her?
There are a lot of families who have had tragedies over the years and are able to give most of their pain to God. Apparently, the family can’t.
You are not helping them by catering to them in this way! There are local Yankton and Tabor families who have lost their children and husbands to the war, and there is no mention of them anymore. And that was only a few years ago! Those men/boys died as HEROES!
The front page of the P&D should’ve held the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic! That was an historical moment in our history and would’ve educated many young people in our community!
I, too, have lost a loved one at a very young age in a similar tragedy. I gave my pain to God and am able to go on and not think that everyone in this town owes me something!
— An Anonymous Yanktonite

This probably won’t surprise you, but I disagree with the letter writer.

It’s true that there are plenty of area families that have been struck by tragedy, including those who lost loved ones in Iraq. We’ve written extensively about those losses and certainly sympathize with them.

The reason we chose to do a story on Haas is because to this day the details surrounding her death 20 years ago are a mystery. Many in the community believe someone is still out there who knows what happened on that night in 1992. Local authorities hold out hope that one day they will be able to provide peace to the family, even though no new compelling evidence has emerged for many years.

I remember speaking with former Yankton County Sheriff Dave Hunhoff about the Haas case a year or two before his retirement after more than three decades in office. He said it was the one case he would most like to solve before he retired. Unfortunately, he didn’t get what he wanted.

Because of the lingering mystery, it is a story that continues to resonate with the people of this area today. It is also why the family continues to talk publicly about their loss. They hope the details will emerge.

That is the reason we felt this story deserved the treatment we gave it. In fact, I worked very hard to make sure the story was in good taste. It took me most of a day to get everything crafted the way I wanted.

If the writer of this letter thinks his/her sentiments are in good taste, I would encourage that individual to submit a signed letter to the editor that could be published on our editorial page.

I offer my sympathies for the writer’s loss, but this is a case where we will have to agree to disagree.

Any thoughts on this, readers? Do you think the story was in poor taste?

26 thoughts on “Was The Tammy Haas Story In Poor Taste?

  1. Love the courage of the Anonymous. Pisses me off. The relevency of an open murder case on a community that is still mourning her and begging for closure is not in poor taste it is in fact good reporting.
    Nate you did nothing wrong. The P&D did nothing in poor taste in going with a front page story. The bitter, angry, cowardly minions will never be satisfied.

    Sorry the jackholes took a shot at you my friend.


    • How in the world is this anonymous author in a position to judge the Hass’ family as not giving their pain to God? It is as inexplicable as it is horrendous. How does this author conclude that local service members have appropriately given their pain over to God when many of them have had also had publicity about their situations (not because they asked for it, but because those tragedies are some of the most unfortunate of news)?

      We should all have read another story about the Titanic sinking rather than attempt to try and revisit an unsolved local murder, while condemning an entire family to apparent damnation because the P&D published a story about the same? Really?

      The author concludes that the family thinks they are owed something which they are not. To this conclusion I could not disagree more! This family, like all those who have suffered at the hands of a murderer deserve accountability. Someone knows what happened and the silence has a cost which, I am guessing, was one of the main points of your story.

      This letter comes off a great deal like a Rex Alberts editorial, which are of a similar and predictable vein. At least Rex signs his name, unlike this most thoughtless of authors…

  2. I thought it was an important piece and quite well researched and written. I appreciate the letter writer’s perspective in that people who are taken from this world too young need to be remembered and celebrated, lest their lives be forgotten. I think the letter writer misses the point, however, in qualifying Ms. Haas case to other cases of lives lost too young. Regardless of the horrible reasons young people have passed, the surviving family almost always has some inclination of what happened. (car accident, military service, etc.) While the families may never understand why a tragedy occurred, they do understand HOW it happened. From there, they begin the journey of grieving. The Haas family has never had that “how,” and I can only imagine how that magnifies their pain and complicates their healing. It wasn’t an easy column to read, Nathan. I’m sure it brings up all kinds of unsettled emotions and memories for people in Yankton who watched events unfold so tragically. That said, I appreciate being reminded of Tammy’s life. We do a good job of honoring the fallen in many ways, but there isn’t a special day or ceremony set aside for people like Tammy whose cases remain unsolved. And people are uncomfortable talking about these things, so it makes it even easier to forget them. From my perspective, your column was solid journalism about a painful topic. Thanks for having the courage to go there.

    • exactly what I thought Jes. I think this person is being a bit SELFISH…comparing her loss to an open murder case in Yankton County!
      It was a great Front page story!

  3. Hey Nate,
    I think you did a great job, granted as noted above that those that lost loved ones in the line of duty; be it in the military, police, firefighting, etc. all are tragic. But those cases the family members and friends have some knowledge as to the “how” that person died and the “why’s”. With Tammy’s murder that isn’t the case, for a community that is supposed to be so “tight niched” as Yankton is touted to be, this is a blight on that train of thought. I’d like to see more in the future Nate if it is ok with Nancy. As you stated in your article hopefully someone will come forward with more information if the “scab” is removed. Hopefully this will be the 1st of many letters from the editor that you intend to write on Tammy since the dead have no voice.
    Greg W.

  4. Tammy’s story, like so many other stories, deserves to be told and retold. Thank you for doing your job Nathan, you do it well. Also, thank you to Kelly for his follow-up editorial. Your efforts are appreciated.

  5. “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” Proverbs 21:15
    I believe the editor did a wonderful job of bringing to light a tragedy that affected all who either knew Tammy or her family. It has never been a matter of the Haas family deserving more but if you knew the Haas family you would know that both Tammy and those who loved her do deserve more. It’s called the truth and any God fearing individual knows “the truth shall set you free.” All any of us have ever wanted was the truth but we have learned to go on without Tammy and the truth of what happened that night. We go on because we believe in the end those who have knowledge of what happened that night will meet our Maker and answer for their sins.

    In no way does seeking the truth belittle those who have died as heroes and for anonymous to suggest that is ridiculous. Oh yes, please run another story about the Titanic because no one knows what happened that night.

    I think what is better for the young adults to know about is the fact that bad things can happen in small towns and that there are people who will stand up for injustice. I want our young people to be able to admit their wrongs and come clean. They need to learn they are responsible for their actions and no one, not mommy and daddy are going to cover it. When in this “all about me” society, we have more people standing up for the injustices in this world and for those who haven’t got a voice, then I think we have more of a chance of living how God would like us to live. So, thank you Mr. Editor and thank you P&D for bringing into light a story that will forever blemish Yankton’s history.

  6. A lot of really insightful responses have been posted so far. Thank you for sharing your opinions and making this a valuable and compassionate forum. My readers really are the best!

  7. I’m completely floored that someone could be so inconsiderate!!! Tammy’s death remains a mystery…does this person know what happened to their loved one that has past? Not only that, but isn’t the P&D a local paper in Yankton, SD?? I feel that Tammy’s story should be over the Titantics being that Tammy is from Yankton…the Titantic was not. Not that the story of Titantic isn’t important, but this is Yankton’s own personal news. I think you did a fabulous Job,Nathan, on Tammy’s story, and I know her family was much apprieated for it. In closing, Nancy is a wonderful lady who has not only lost her only daughter, but also her husband at a very young age, and I feel that she deserves, atleast, to find the truth about Tammy’s death.

  8. I also think the story was very well done ! Maybe Mr. OR Ms. Anonymous knows something about this terrible tradgedy. Could it be that , this is why he wants the story laid to rest ?? It makes a person wonder, doesnt it ?

    • Amen, Carrie. And let’s be honest: every town around here has its dirty little secrets that they wish would just “go away.” You hit the nail on the head, Carrie.

  9. As a mother of a deceased daughter, I understand the families need to find the person responsible. It is also a milestone in her death of 20 years and still there have been no answers. I have answers for my daughter, and every parent that loses a child should have answers. The P & D piece was so compelling, I couldn’t stop reading it. Breaks my heart and I have been on the journey. I am glad that it was written and that it made front page news. I hope Tammy’s family finds answers to her death. I can’t imagine what that feels like. Please if someone knows something, come forward, because this family needs the answers. There is no such thing as “closure” but as parents of deceased children we can deal with the answers.

  10. The story was well done. The “Anonymous Yanktonite” should be ashamed of themselves. Tammy meant a lot to many people and she should not be forgotten and her story told. Its unbelievable that a narrow-minded human being would say such a thing. Tammy Haas affected many peoples lives in a very positive way. Its hilarious “Anonymous Yanktonite” wanted a story about the Titantic…go rent the DVD.

  11. I’d like to see a story like this at least once a month. The reasoning is quite simple really, the more attention that the paper puts forth on Tammy’s death, maybe … just maybe someone’s conscience will get the better of them. My aunt from the Twin Cities read it and said something like this should be run on a monthly basis, I tend to agree, but that one is for you and your paper to mull over. As per the “Yanktonite”, you’re a joke… really the Titanic?

  12. This “Anonymous” writer strikes me as someone either closely related to the case, or feigning outrage to get a letter in the paper. Not only is she comparing apples to oranges… The Titanic? Men killed in war? SERIOUSLY? But she (trust me, it’s a she, and I can tell you more about her if you email me, Mr. Johnson… years of linguistic analysis, here) is bitter that someone else’s pain is usurping her own, and what’s sickening is that the outrage isn’t even genuine. It’s histrionic posturing at it’s worst, and OH so transparent! Keep up the good work, Mr. Johnson. You’re dealing with someone with a bad case of Look-At-Me-itis.

    As a side note: For such a sparsely populated area there also sure seems to be quite a few “suicides” and “one car accidents” and “unsolved murders” and “missing persons.” Percentage wise, an almost unheard of number. Am I a conspiracy theorist? Not at all. Just someone who knows how to use a calculator.

  13. Keep up the great work Mr. Johnson. The article on Tammy Haas was well written. The people of Yankton have a right to know this young ladies story. “Anonymous” is to much of a coward to even stand behind their own opinion then it isnt even worth a single brain cell thinking about it. I hope that one day Tammy’s family will find the low lifes that did this to her.

  14. I think the story was very well written. I hope the stories and articles or even her name brought up stab at the hearts of the people that know the truth! To the “Anonymous Yanktonite” I think something should be printed about Tammy Haas on the front page of the P&D everyday until the truth comes out. It is as big of a deal now as it was back then. A Beautiful teenage girl was killed and justice has not been served. People in this community need to never ever forget that.

  15. I agree Beth, I think something should be printed in the P&D if not everyday at very least once a week. Better yet it would be great if someone could get in contact with the T.V. series Cold Case Files, that way some sort of national attention could be brought forth. But that’s just my spin on it. As per the “Anonymous Yanktonite” more like Cowardly Lion should be the signage.

  16. How do we get this story National attention? This needs to be featured on Dateline or48hrs mysteries. I feel for the Haas family, I cant believe this case is unsolved, the jurors should really feel ashamed of themselves for letting this case go, Erik Stukel killed her no question about it, and about this anonymous person go to hell, you heartless soul of a person.

  17. Travis you are so correct. I have a feeling this “anonymous” person is a lot closer to the Haas family then people think. Maybe someone of guilt. Or maybe just and inconsiderate human being. I hope this case gets re-opened / solved someday. It is horrible that there is no closure for this family. National attention is what it needed when it happened and even now that would be a good idea. RIP Tammy Haas

  18. Thankyou to ALL who have responded and continue to respond to the unkind letter sent soon after the article was written about Tammy. God’s Blessings to you ALL! Nancy

    • Nancy, I feel bad that you had to read the anonymous letter above. Thanks for your kind words, and I hope to one day write about the mystery of Tammy’s death being solved. Take care.

  19. I am Tammy’s cousin… My cousin does deserve to have front page news…. I have been contacted by the news to do an interview with Nancy tomorrow in Yankton at her residence. I beg for the jerk of the anonymous letter to show his or her face. This is disgraceful. War mentionables also have a special place in my heart, but when a community has a MURDER without any answers, how is that not front page news after two decades…. To me, the anonymous writer definatly knows something and is hiding behind the letter. This person who wrote it, has some type of involvement and feels as if it will help his/her conscious after the fact….

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