You are editor: The suicide story

Facts can often ruin a good headline.

This morning, several news outlets were connecting the death of central Minnesota teen Lance Lundsten with suicide, spurred on by bullying in school. It’s been an increasing theme in Minnesota in the last few months.

But is the connection being made prematurely?

KARE 11’s Web site, for example, today carries this headline:


But at the bottom of the story, we find this:


The reporting is based on a story from KSAX TV in Alexandria, which is also headlining the suicide angle and citing an unnamed person in the sheriff’s office.

The coroner isn’t talking, according to the TV station:

Lance’s father called KSAX and said he received a call from the coroner saying Lance had an enlarged heart and died of a coronary edema. He said it was not a suicide.

He also said there were no signs of drugs or alcohol in his system, but the toxicology report has not been finished according the medical examiner’s office. The medical examiner’s office also said they had no comment about the phone call to Lance’s father.

In a separate article from KSAX, the station removed any doubt that it was suicide, in an interview with Sen. Al Franken:

“My heart goes out to Lance’s family, and friends and loved ones. It’s a tragic event, not only for them, but for the school, and the Alexandria community and really for all of us,” Franken said.

“LGBT kids really do need (more) protection,” Franken said. “They’re two or three times more likely than straight kids to get bullied. Nine in ten LGBT students said they’ve been bullied or harassed and almost two-thirds say they don’t feel safe in school.”

This afternoon, Cristi Jessee, the KSAX news director, said the sheriff’s office is backing off the suicide claim. “My reporter first called the sheriff’s office on Monday, and the sheriff was not available,” she said in an e-mail. ” My reporter talked to a deputy who, she says, confirmed this looked like a suicide. I just got out of a meeting with the sheriff’s department and I will be updating the story online and on air today. The sheriff’s department is now officially saying the investigation is ongoing and will not confirm suicide. In light of this new info, we are updating the story.”

You are the editor. What’s your headline?