This week, MLive published a tragic, compelling story of the murder of a young man on Christmas Eve 2019 – a killing that was made worse by aspects of premeditation and then cannibalism by the murderer, Mark Latunski.
Stories like this are taxing on the journalists who produce them – not just because we battle our own emotional reactions to do our jobs, but because we strive to do more than tell a story: We want to provide insight and understanding to our readers; respect the victims and their families; and bring attention to bigger issues behind tragedies that can help prevent them in the future.
In reporting the death of Kevin Bacon, our reporters Gus Burns, from our investigative team, and Joey Oliver, from The Flint Journal, checked all those boxes. And that carried over to how we presented the story with video and audio formats. Those teams, headed by Gillian Van Stratt, did a marvelous job of bringing insight and sensitivity into video storytelling and our Michigan Crime Stories podcast series.
Here is what it takes, and how it feels, to put together a reporting package like this, in their own words.
Burns: Telling this story was difficult. I had reservations about it – still do. The No. 1 reason is that Kevin’s parents and friends didn’t want to talk about it after the conviction. They were ready to move on. MLive reporters covered this story thoroughly and respectfully for three years, but it came out in bits and pieces. When deputies shuffled Latunski away in handcuffs to serve his life sentence last December, it felt unfinished.
Oliver: I grew up in the Shiawassee County area. I shopped at a lot of the same stores I’m sure Mark Latunski visited. Kevin Bacon was good friends with some of my mutual friends, although I had never met him. There were all these small connections that made the story feel more than the detached crime writing I typically experience.
Van Stratt: I think what made this one difficult was just how upsetting and gory it is. What made it hard to tell was that people lost someone they loved, and there’s only so many details about the end of Kevin’s life that a loved one can handle.
Burns: There was a lot of below-the-surface stuff in this story … like, who was Mark Latunski and what led him to do something so inhuman? He was written as a monster, but he is a human who had a wife and children he loved, a prominent career, hobbies and friends. I wondered how mental illness led him to stray from what most would consider a normal, happy life, and how law enforcement and mental health systems we have in place failed to head this off in the first place.
I was able to speak to Latunski’s ex-wife, Emily Latunski, who watched her ex-husband’s mental illness entirely change the person he was. She felt helpless as he pushed her away, refusing medication and treatment amid delusions and psychosis, something many of us with severely mentally ill loved ones or friends can relate to.
Oliver: I knew I had the story I wanted to tell when I spoke with Karl Bacon, Kevin’s dad, who was able to talk about how he experienced the case in his own way. First, his son was missing. While grieving the loss of his son, he had to deal with his own marital issues and learning of the details of the case. I knew that was the real story here, how he was affected and how Kevin’s mother was also affected. She rarely talked about the case, but when she did, at Latunski’s sentencing, she talked not only about her son but how what happened has affected her entire family.
Van Stratt: There’s a big difference between reading that someone called 911 and listening to that 911 call (in the podcast or video). The thing that podcasts and videos can do for a person that reading can’t is just plopping them in a space. You can listen to or watch a scene unfold without interference from a narrative. That, I think, opens itself up more to individual perceptions of a situation or a character.
Burns: I hope people take the time to listen to the podcast series and read the stories. Maybe it will give some solace to a child, parent or spouse to realize they are not alone in their struggle with a mentally ill loved one. And maybe police, doctors, judges or politicians will pay attention and really look at what they can do in their roles to better to serve the mentally ill.
Most importantly, I hope a deeper exploration of the story gives Kevin Bacon’s life and the tragedy of his death the respect it deserves. He didn’t die in vain.
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John Hiner is the vice president of content for MLive Media Group. If you have questions you’d like him to answer, or topics to explore, share your thoughts at email@example.com.